The Bidirectional Link Between Sleep Disturbances and Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms: A Role for Glymphatic Dysfunction?

Juan A. Piantino, Jeffrey Iliff, Miranda Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), often referred to as concussion, is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Sleep disturbances are common after mTBI. Moreover, subjects who develop subjective sleep complaints after mTBI also report more severe somatic, mental health, and cognitive impairment and take longer to recover from mTBI sequelae. Despite many previous studies addressing the role of sleep in post-mTBI morbidity, the mechanisms linking sleep to recovery after mTBI remain poorly understood. The glymphatic system is a brainwide network that supports fluid movement through the cerebral parenchyma and the clearance of interstitial solutes and wastes from the brain. Notably, the glymphatic system is active primarily during sleep. Clearance of cellular byproducts related to somatic, mental health, and neurodegenerative processes (e.g., amyloid-β and tau, among others) depends in part on intact glymphatic function, which becomes impaired after mTBI. In this viewpoint, we review the current knowledge regarding the association between sleep disturbances and post-mTBI symptoms. We also discuss the role of glymphatic dysfunction as a potential link between mTBI, sleep disruption, and posttraumatic morbidity. We outline a model where glymphatic dysfunction and sleep disruption caused by mTBI may have an additive effect on waste clearance, leading to cerebral dysfunction and impaired recovery. Finally, we review the novel techniques being developed to examine glymphatic function in humans and explore potential interventions to alter glymphatic exchange that may offer a novel therapeutic approach to those experiencing poor sleep and prolonged symptoms after mTBI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-487
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • Glymphatic system
  • Perivascular spaces
  • Sleep
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Virchow-Robin spaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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