A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs as the result of a blow or sudden bump to the head. It was once commonly believed that you shouldn’t go to sleep with a concussion, but now, medical experts agree that it’s safe to sleep with a concussion once you’ve consulted with your doctor.
Research suggests that adequate, healthy sleep is important for recovering from a concussion. Yet many people with a concussion find it hard to sleep. We explore the link between concussions and various sleep issues, and offer tips for sleeping better with a concussion.
Is It Safe to Sleep With a Concussion?
As long as you have been evaluated by a medical professional after your injury, going to sleep with a concussion is considered safe. In fact, resting the brain and the body are essential for healing after a concussion.
It’s not quite clear where the idea that you shouldn’t sleep after a concussion came from. It’s possible the myth began out of fear that a person could lose consciousness or slip into a coma. Current medical advice debunks this myth.
Instead, your doctor may recommend that, for the first 12 hours or so, someone wake you up every few hours to check on you, as any worsening of symptoms may indicate a more serious brain injury and warrant further evaluation by a doctor. They may also recommend an initial period of rest before slowly increasing your physical activity.
Signs of a Concussion
Signs of a concussion usually develop quickly, but some people may not recognize the severity of their head injury until symptoms develop hours or days later. Anyone with signs of a concussion should see their doctor.
Common signs of a concussion include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Appearing dazed, forgetful, or confused
- Having trouble moving and balancing
- Speaking slowly
- Alterations in vision, hearing, smell, or taste
- Changes in personality, mood, or behavior
Signs of a concussion are similar in adults, teens, and children, but may be more difficult to see in a young child who can’t communicate clearly. For example, unexplainable crying may indicate a concussion in an infant who has sustained a concussion.
Can Concussions Impact Sleep?
Sleep is a complex biological process that involves coordination between many parts of the brain, which may explain why a concussion can affect a person’s sleep. Experts theorize that concussions may affect processes that regulate sleep and alertness due to damage to brain cells and inflammation within the brain.
Approximately 30% of people experience sleep issues soon after a concussion. Having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling tired are common complaints. Many people also report that their sleep isn’t as restful or that they need more sleep than usual. Symptoms like headache and dizziness may also make it hard to sleep.
In some cases, concussions can contribute to more severe daytime sleepiness or the development of a sleep disorder, such as:
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorders
- Central or obstructive sleep apnea
- Sleep-related bruxism
How Sleep Can Affect Concussion Recovery
Both physical and mental rest are necessary for optimal recovery after a concussion. To make sure that a person is getting adequate rest, doctors may recommend limiting tasks that require a lot of thinking or concentration as well as taking naps when tired and getting sufficient sleep at night.
Studies suggest that people who have trouble sleeping after a concussion may take longer to recover. Sleep deprivation can also cause or exacerbate post-concussion symptoms, including depression, pain, and mood changes.
Although it’s common for sleep issues to arise in the initial days and weeks after a concussion, most people feel better in a few days or weeks and recover fully. Implementing healthy sleep habits is often the first treatment used to manage sleep issues after a concussion.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
Treatments to Improve Sleep After a Concussion
Treatment for a concussion depends on the severity of a person’s condition, so it’s important to see their doctor after a head injury. If a doctor determines that a person has a mild concussion, they may recommend rest, taking steps to avoid further injury, and treatment of any symptoms that arise.
Good sleep hygiene is key to treating sleep issues that develop after a concussion. Improving sleep hygiene involves taking actions that benefit sleep and avoiding activities that can make sleep more challenging.
- Stay on a schedule: Two of the most important steps to improving sleep hygiene after a concussion are to set aside enough time for sleep and to maintain a consistent sleep schedule by getting into bed and getting up at the same time each day.
- Get comfortable: Find ways to relax before bed, avoiding anything that makes it harder to fall asleep. A dark, cool, quiet bedroom environment is most conducive for a good night’s sleep.
- Remove electronic devices: Many people are sensitive to light and noises after a concussion, so it can be helpful to reduce screen time to give the brain a rest. Phones, tablets, and computers can also be a distraction from sleep and should be kept out of the bedroom.
- Try mild exercise: While it may be necessary to limit activity in the days after a concussion, slowly building up to light exercise may help people sleep better at night.
- Be careful of naps: Naps can be helpful in the first few days following a concussion, but in the weeks that follow, naps should be minimized if they begin to make it harder to sleep well at night.
It’s important to talk to a doctor about persistent sleep issues after a concussion. A doctor can discuss whether medicine or another treatment may be helpful and address any symptoms of a more significant sleep disorder.
Concussion symptoms usually begin to resolve within 7 to 10 days, but sometimes symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years after the injury. This is called postconcussion syndrome. The most common symptoms of postconcussion syndrome include:
- Mood changes, like irritability and anxiety
- Memory and concentration problems
- Sensitivity to noise
- Difficulty sleeping
Sleep disorders, including insomnia, hypersomnia, and sleep apnea are common in people with post-concussion syndrome. In fact, around 50% of people with chronic symptoms of a concussion experience insomnia.
When to See a Doctor
It’s important to see a doctor after a head injury to be evaluated for a concussion. Once a doctor has cleared you to recover at home, contact them again if your symptoms don’t go away or worsen over time.