The National Football League (NFL) has been plagued with controversy surrounding head injuries – specifically concussions – since the early 2000s. Despite so many risks surrounding head injuries in football, the NFL has done little to mitigate them. A promising new treatment for these injuries was revealed in a recent study funded by the United States military, wherein blue light was found to help heal mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) with better sleep.
A concussion (or mTBI) can be caused by a variety of scenarios, including car accidents, falls, and contact sports—like professional football. mTBI can cause ongoing symptoms that last for weeks or months at a time, including everything from headaches, metal fogginess, and dizziness to memory loss, fatigue, and disturbed sleep. According to researchers behind the study, 50% of those who suffer an mTBI complain of chronic sleep problems following the concussion. Lack of sleep affects the brain’s ability to think and recover.
Sleep Cycles and Head Injuries
The study involved 32 adults suffering with mTBI and focused on solidifying the participants’ circadian rhythm, which dictates a person’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. The participants were exposed to blue light from a cube-like device for 30 minutes each morning for a six-week period.
Scientists have shown blue light specifically suppresses the brain’s production of melatonin, which makes a person sleepy. Lead author of the study, William D. Killgore, a psychiatry professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, explained that “exposure to blue light, such as sunlight at sunrise, tells the body that it is morning and time to stop sleeping. That makes you more alert during the day and starts the clock ticking to tell you when to go to sleep later.”
On average, the participants who used the blue light therapy fell asleep and woke up one hour earlier than before the trial began and were less drowsy during the day.
Featured in Neurobiology of Disease, the study found sleep can be utilized as a tool to help those who suffer from an mTBI. According to Killgore, sleep is incredibly important to brain health and recovery. He and his team reasoned that, “improving sleep timing and duration could lead to a more rapid recovery from mTBI.” Furthermore, considerable evidence suggests sleep is important to the brain repair process. Without sufficient restorative sleep, brain tissue repair is likely to be slowed or incomplete.
CTE and the NFL
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain condition believed to be caused by repeated hits to the head. The first former NFL player was diagnosed with CTE in the early 2000s; and since then, concern has grown as over 100 former NFL players have received a postmortem diagnosis of CTE. New research is also finding youth football leagues can be a risk factor for CTE appearing later in life. CTE has four main stages, including:
The tau protein, which is closely linked to Alzheimer’s disease and brain damage, begins to form and build up around blood vessels in the brain and the frontal lobe.
Rage, impulsivity, and depression
Personality changes begin to appear as more of the brain’s nerve cells are affected.
Confusion and memory loss
CTE begins to affect the amygdala and hippocampus, moving from the frontal section of the brain to the temporal, impairing emotion and memory.
Tau deposits begin to overwhelm the brain, killing nerve cells and shrinking the brain by half its size. The brain becomes deformed and brittle, severely limiting cognitive function.
NCAA Head Injury Attorneys
Heads and bodies are impacted every week during football season. Despite enforcing stricter penalties and fines for flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits, the NFL has not succeeded in preventing head injuries. In fact, the number of concussions sustained during football practice and gameplay in 2019 increased to 224 from 214 in 2018.
At Raizner Law, we represent former student athletes and college football players suffering from brain conditions like CTE, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and others. Our clients have alleged that universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA ignored the obvious dangers of concussions, failed to warn players of the associated health risks, and encouraged them to continue to play despite suffering from sports-related concussions. If you or someone you know suffered sports-related concussions while playing for an NCAA college football team, contact Raizner Law today to learn more.