We’ve all received a hard whack to the head at least once! Even if you haven't actually been diagnosed with a concussion, there’s a belief that you shouldn’t go to sleep if you’ve had a bang on the head.
But with the advancement of technology we’re learning new things about the body and brain all the time. The answer to the question may both surprise and relieve you.
So, can you sleep with a concussion? Here’s what the latest research shows.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a type of head injury. It occurs when a person receives a knock to the head, but not every bump to the head results in a concussion.
The mechanism behind a concussion is that the brain gets shaken around a bit. Think of it this way. When you move—walk, run, ride in a car—your brain and skull move as one unit.
But when there’s an external impact on the skull, it causes the skull to move quicker than the brain. So the brain ends up, literally, bumping into the skull at high impact.
If you compare head injuries to limb injuries, a mild concussion may be the equivalent of a sprain, instead of a break.
That being said, it can be extremely hard to tell what other factors may worsen the effects of a concussion and lead to long-term damage. This is why we highly advise seeing a doctor after any blow to the head.
Also, if a person has suffered a severe concussion before, it increases the chances of another concussion leaving lasting damage.
Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion
A concussion has various signs and symptoms which vary from person to person. Obviously, the first sign that a concussion may be a factor is a blow to the head.
The symptoms depend on the severity of the blow and the person’s general health. Their previous history of concussions may also contribute.
Also, getting hit in different places can cause different symptoms. This depends on the part of the brain that gets injured.
Immediate Symptoms May Include:
- Blurred vision
- A headache
- Light sensitivity
- Off balance
- Slow reaction time
When to See a Doctor:
The following symptoms indicate a more serious head injury. If the concussed person displays any of these, take them to a doctor or emergency room straight away.
These symptoms may happen immediately after the blow, or even up to a few days later.
- A loss of consciousness
- Worsening headache
- Slurred speech
- Numbness or loss of feeling in a limb
- Confusion or memory loss
- Discharge from the nose or ears
- Worsening nausea or repeated vomiting
- Unusually large, small, or unequal pupils
- Extreme drowsiness or inability to stay awake
- Unable to wake up after sleep
Concussion and Sleep
One of the primary symptoms of a concussion is drowsiness. It makes sense that after a knock to the head, your brain would need a rest.
But can you sleep with a concussion?
If you’ve been to the doc, it’s best to take their advice. If you haven’t been to the doctor, you’ll need to decide for yourself.
The old idea of staying awake for as long as possible after a concussion is not supported anymore.
Are you experiencing the symptoms mentioned above that warrant a hospital visit? Then you definitely shouldn’t sleep!
But if you’ve only got the not-too-serious symptoms, research suggests that sleep could be a good idea. Here’s why!
Sleep Is Healing
When you sleep every night, your body heals.
So what happens if you sleep with a concussion? The exact same thing!
Your immune system sends white blood cells to parts of the body that need extra care. Here are just a few things that happen during sleep:
- Inflammation is reduced
- Toxic waste by-products are removed
- Protein synthesis helps to regenerate damaged cells
- New neurons and neural pathways are created
How Long After a Concussion Can You Sleep?
How long should you stay awake after hitting your head? It can be tempting to hit the pillow straight away, but it may be better to wait.
Research indicates that sleep is super healthy for an injured brain. But it also suggests that most serious consequences of a concussion show up 3 to 6 hours after a blow to the head.
Wait at least 3 hours before sleeping if you can. If you have no serious symptoms, you should be good to go. If you’re a little more on the cautious side, wait 6 hours before going to sleep.
Concussion Sleeping Rules
So, can you sleep with a concussion? Ask yourself a few questions to make sure.
Can you have a proper conversation? Walk without overbalancing? Are your pupils still normal size?
If so, it’s considered to be safe to sleep after a concussion. Here are some tips for a good rest after a blow to the head.
Aim for an Uninterrupted Sleep
A full, uninterrupted 8 hours is first prize. Once upon a time, doctors suggested waking the concussed person up every hour to check on them, but this is not recommended anymore.
Interrupted sleep doesn’t heal as well as solid sleep does. When you lay your head down, you should be aiming for 8 hours of rest without interruptions. That’s whether or not you have a concussion.
That being said…
Ask Someone to Check In On You
Although nobody should be waking you every hour, ask someone to check on you while you sleep.
They should check that your breathing sounds normal. If they’re worried about the sound or rapidness of your breathing, they can wake you to check on you. Otherwise, they should let you sleep.
Make Sure the Room Is Dark & Quiet
Noise and light are the two biggest interrupters of sleep. Before settling down to sleep after a concussion, make sure the room is dark and quiet.
If it’s still light outdoors, you can place dark sheets over the windows or wear an eye mask. Advise those around you that you’re resting and that they should be as quiet as possible.
If you live in a noisy area or there’s construction going on, it may be a good idea to rest elsewhere for a day or so.
Avoid Sleep-Aiding Medication
Resist the temptation to take a sleeping tablet. They can cause you to sleep too deeply, masking signs and symptoms of a deeper problem.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep after a concussion, try a natural remedy, such as:
Also, avoid ingesting caffeine between the time of your injury and going to sleep. This includes coffee, tea, and caffeinated beverages like Coca-Cola.
Develop Better Sleeping Habits
It can take weeks to heal properly after a concussion. Developing better sleeping habits in those weeks will accelerate your recovery.
Improve your sleep hygiene by following some of these tips:
- Go to bed at the same time each night (if possible)
- Avoid screens for at least an hour before bed
- Do something to relax your mind before sleeping (meditation, journaling, etc)
- Keep your room dark and quiet
- Use music to help you fall asleep
- Wear comfortable clothing to sleep in
- Be consistent!
Can you sleep with a concussion? The short answer is yes. Sleep is healing!
Assess the concussed person accurately and determine if they can sleep safely. Once you’ve made sure that they’re okay to rest, follow the tips outlined here for the safest experience.
Head injuries are not to be taken lightly. If you’re unsure of anything, don’t hesitate to go to the doctor or the ER. Rather err on the side of caution.
Be careful out there, and happy sleeping!