You may have heard that it is not safe to go to sleep if you have suffered a head injury or have a concussion. This old age advice was long followed by people due to the fear that falling asleep with a concussion might cause them to slip into a coma or even die. But, it is necessary to keep yourself awake after experiencing a concussion? Read on to find out about whether you should go to sleep after a concussion.
Should You Go To Sleep After A Concussion?
It is a common warning given to people following a head injury that they should avoid sleeping and stay awake for a couple of hours. However, sleeping after having a concussion does not cause any serious complications. The only danger here is that if you fall asleep after a concussion, then your doctor or family members are unlikely to notice any signs and symptoms of severe brain injury or damage. This may include experiencing weakness of one side of the body or having a seizure.(1)
This does not mean, though, that you need to remain awake following a concussion. Nevertheless, if you are already noticing some symptoms of a concussion, then it is best that you do not sleep until you have seen a doctor and gotten yourself checked out.
When Can You Sleep After A Concussion?
After experiencing a mild head injury, you may experience certain symptoms. The most commonly followed medical advice after a head injury is that you should be getting adequate rest and sleep after suffering a concussion. However, this advice is only valid if you meet certain criteria, such as:
- Your pupils are not dilated.
- You are able to walk around without any difficulty.
- You are able to carry on a conversation on your own
- You do not have any visual changes.
- You do not have a state of confusion.
In fact, rest is now seen as an essential factor in recovering from a head injury, especially during the first three to four days after the injury.
If you don’t meet the criteria mentioned above, then you must see your doctor at the earliest. It is always best to consult a doctor following mild head trauma, even if you do not have any serious symptoms of a concussion. Children, in particular, should always see a doctor within a day or two of any type of head injury, except in the case of a mild bump.
If you are experiencing a serious concussion, then your doctor is likely to recommend that you have someone wake you up periodically or a few times to ensure that you are experiencing any serious concussion symptoms in your sleep.(2)
Can Having a Concussion Affect Your Sleep?
It is normal to feel more tired than usual when you have a concussion. You may feel the need to take small naps throughout the day, and you may also experience other sleep-related issues when you have a concussion.(3) These may include:
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Feeling unusually tired during the day.
Such types of sleep issues tend to improve as the injury starts to heal, though it can still take a couple of weeks for your sleeping patterns to become normalized.(4) If even after a few weeks following the concussion you are still experiencing sleep-related problems, then you should let your doctor know. You can experience sleep issues even after a sports-related concussion.(5)
Here are some tips to improve your sleep after a concussion:
- Maintain a regular sleeping schedule by ensuring you go to bed and get up around the same time every day.
- Ensure that you get at least seven to eight hours of sleep. Remember that you are likely to need more sleep while recovering from the injury.(6)
- If possible, try to avoid taking naps in the afternoon.
- Avoid using any electronics such as a laptop or smartphone for at least an hour before your bedtime.
- Avoid exposure to any bright lights for at least an hour before going to sleep.
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Keeping the room relatively cool can enhance the quality of your sleep.
Warning Signs After a Concussion
If you experience any of the following signs and symptoms after a concussion, you must seek emergency medical help at once:
- Vomiting multiple times.
- Feeling extremely tired within the first six hours after the injury.
- Having trouble staying awake, especially in the first couple of hours after the injury.
- Having head pain that is increasing in intensity.
- Having trouble recognizing your surroundings
- Having trouble recognizing your family and friends.
- If you also have a neck or back injury.
- Having trouble speaking or having slurred speech.
- Feeling clumsy, dizzy, or generally, feeling like you are unable to move normally.
- Feeling disoriented and confused.
- Having frequent mood changes.
- Having seizures
- Losing consciousness for more than 30 seconds
In case a child has suffered a head injury and experiencing any of these symptoms, crying continuously, or refusing to eat, then also you should seek immediate medical attention.
If your symptoms tend to continue even after a couple of weeks, then it may indicate that you have post-concussion syndrome.(7) Post-concussion syndrome is rare in people who have never had a concussion before, but you will still need to visit your doctor if your symptoms persist for more than a week or ten days.
It might take a couple of days to a few weeks to start feeling better after having a concussion. The recovery time period also depends on the severity of your injury. However, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns regarding your recovery time. Sufficient sleep and rest are generally advised after a mild concussion. Concussions are usually mild, but in some cases, they may cause serious complications, which is why it is essential to monitor your symptoms for the first two days after experiencing a head injury. In case of a severe head injury, you might be told to remain awake for some time or have someone wake you up regularly to ensure that major symptoms such as a seizure do not go unnoticed.
- Annegers, J.F., Grabow, J.D., Groover, R.V., Laws, E.R., Elveback, L.R. and Kurland, L.T., 1980. Seizures after head trauma: a population study. Neurology, 30(7), pp.683-683.
- Parsons, L.C. and ver Beek, D., 1982. Sleep-awake patterns following cerebral concussion. Nursing research.
- Minen, M.T., Boubour, A., Walia, H. and Barr, W., 2016. Post-concussive syndrome: a focus on post-traumatic headache and related cognitive, psychiatric, and sleep issues. Current neurology and neuroscience reports, 16(11), p.100.
- Raikes, A.C. and Schaefer, S.Y., 2016. Sleep quantity and quality during acute concussion: a pilot study. Sleep, 39(12), pp.2141-2147.
- Jaffee, M.S., Winter, W.C., Jones, C.C. and Ling, G., 2015. Sleep disturbances in athletic concussion. Brain injury, 29(2), pp.221-227.
- Hartmann, E., Baekeland, F., Zwilling, G. and Hoy, P., 1971. Sleep need: how much sleep and what kind?. American Journal of Psychiatry, 127(8), pp.1001-1008.
- Ryan, L.M. and Warden, D.L., 2003. Post concussion syndrome. International review of psychiatry, 15(4), pp.310-316.
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