Insomnia is common after traumatic brain injury and many survivors rely on medication to get to sleep. However, animal studies and studies of healthy individuals show that the use of benzodiazepines (a commonly prescribed sleep aid) reduces cognition, interferes with neural plasticity, and slows recovery. Therefore, many clinicians have discouraged the use of benzodiazepines in traumatic brain injury survivors.
A research review conducted by Northwestern University in Chicago has shown that alternative drug treatments may be better suited for insomnia in traumatic brain injury. Trazodone, zopiclone, zolpidem, and zaleplon are believed to have fewer adverse effects on cognition than benzodiazepines. Melatonin or ramelteon (its synthetic double) can play a dual role by both replenishing lost hormone production in the brain and effectively treating insomnia.
Sleep itself is beneficial to recovery of motor skills and cognition after traumatic brain injury. However, sleep induced by benzodiazepines may slow this recovery and should be avoided. Alternative drug treatments may be safer and are available for traumatic brain injury survivors.
Larson EB & Zollman FS. The effect of sleep medications on cognitive recovery from traumatic brain injury. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. (January 2010).