How long after a concussion can you sleep? How to tell if a head injury is mild or severe? Read the article to find out more about concussion-related sleep problems.
The first thing that you wonder about when you hit your head is whether you can instantly go to sleep or if you should wait before going to sleep. We’ve all heard people say that you can fall unconscious, slip into a coma, and never recover or regain consciousness.
There are always some myths that surround such injuries, and it is better to understand and differentiate facts from fiction. Any question you ask is valid if it can lead you to the truth behind matters of urgency and what is more urgent than a medical concern/emergency.
This article is for clearing up the confusion regarding head injuries, especially concussions. We’ll be looking at what a concussion means, how to tell if a head injury is mild or
severe, and the steps that one should take to ensure a speedy recovery.
Table of Contents
What is a concussion?
You can have a concussion if you hit your head against a hard surface or if there’s a sharp, hard blow to the head. Such an injury can cause severe damage to the brain, and you may need emergency treatment in the hospital. However, it is important to note one thing: not all such injuries are critical, and sometimes you actually recover without doing anything about it.
The suggestion you get from people to stay awake for the next 24 hours after an injury to the brain is basically a myth. The same goes for another idea that people have that you should keep waking a person with a concussion every hour or so to see if they’re alright. We are trying to bust a few myths while talking about how it can sometimes be beneficial for a person with a head injury to rest their brain.
It is a type of traumatic brain injury or TBI. To explain it further, imagine you take a hard blow to your head, have a fall, or find yourself in an accident with a lot of jerks to your head – your brain can actually jump around in your skull or twist in all such scenarios.
A trauma of such magnitude expands and alters the neurons; they are the neural pathways running from our brain to the rest of our bodies. It can cause disruptions in the brain, changing our brain chemistry and creating communication difficulties for the neurons.
While many head injuries can be severe; however, a concussion does not always fall into this category. They are generally one of the mildest forms of brain injuries. People with concussions rarely ever develop life-threatening issues but require at least some medical support because head injury temporarily alters our normal brain wave functions, causing a shift in consciousness.
Symptoms of a concussion
Following are some of the most common symptoms that you can experience after having a concussion:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Blurry vision or seeing doubles
- Tinnitus or the ringing in the ears
- Dizzy spells
- Inability to make sense of your surroundings
- Light or sound sensitivity
- Feeling a little “not well” or “off”
- Having trouble concentrating
- Anxiety, stress, irritability
- Feeling lethargic and sleepy/drowsy
- Short or long-term memory issues
- Feeling a fog in your head or fuzziness in your thoughts
Is it normal to sleep more after a concussion?
Yes, it is actually quite normal to sleep more after having a concussion. It happens because a brain injury of this sort can directly affect the neurons that are responsible for our sleeping and waking cycles. Multiple kinds of research have proved that while all concussions have varying degrees of effects, approx. 30% to 80% of people end up developing at least some sort of sleeping disorder.
It is quite common for concussion patients to feel extra sleepy all the time; some end up taking very long extra naps during the first week of the injury. However, it changes pretty soon, and many end-up struggling to have some sleep during the 24-hour long day. This feeling of tiredness becomes persistent as your sleep cycle keeps shifting and changing.
Many people start sleeping more during the day while their night-time sleep routine becomes more erratic and unpredictable. All of this generates more tiredness, which in turn becomes worse as you stop sleeping the actual deep restorative sleep. Therefore, the production of the sleep hormone melatonin is simply insufficient, and you are left with a constant feeling of being sick.
Contrary to popular belief, anyone with a head injury needs sleep to recover and to fasten the healing process; rest is crucial. The only real problem with sleeping is one; when someone’s asleep, you cannot know whether they are feeling alright or not. In case you or someone around you gets a concussion, there are specific steps that one can take to aid in making a good sleep schedule.
- Stay consistent about your set schedule, even on the weekends
- Make sure you have a proper nap time routine so you can relax
- Ensure a minimum sleep of eight hours per night.
- If you find it difficult to fall asleep at night, invest in a bedtime routine to help you relax.
- Taking caffeinated drinks in the evening can harm your sleep schedule, so try avoiding them.
- Studies show that people who use electronic gadgets like phones and tabs right before sleeping have trouble switching their brains off. Do not use them.
How can I tell if a head injury is mild or severe?
There are specific signs and symptoms that one should try to keep an eye on in case of a head injury, especially if it’s a child or someone with a prior history of concussions. It’s always good to go in for a checkup at your nearest hospital by a medical professional. If in case, there are mild to no symptoms present, you can try checking the urgent care or emergency department, or you can try getting your regular doctor’s appointment for the same day.
Symptoms of a severe head injury
The following symptoms suggest you may have a severe head injury, and a trip to the emergency room is now essential. Or you can get emergency help just in case you are experiencing any of these by placing a 911 call if you can not immediately take the patient to a hospital yourself:
- You are unable to wake the patient
- One eye has a larger, more dilated pupil than the other
- A headache that is persistent and worsens with time
- Unable to speak clearly, or having a slur to one’s speech
- There is numbness or weakness in the limbs
- Body coordination is impaired
- Consistent vomiting that doesn’t stop
- There are body seizures or convulsions
- The patient is acting confused or shows signs of agitation
- The patient collapses, losing consciousness at any time
- There’s an unusual or bizarre change in behavior
- Feeling irritability or antagonism
- Feeling an odd tingly sensation in body extremities, like arms and legs
- Constant watery discharge from the ears or nose, or both
- Bleeding through the nose or ears, or both
Can my child go to sleep after a concussion?
Anyone can sleep after a concussion once you have made sure they have not experienced any of the above-mentioned severe symptoms. However, it is a little different in the case of a small child or a baby. They have developing brains, which means their neurons are more sensitive to injuries.
Children usually end up hitting their heads often while growing up. Not all such hurts, like bumping or banging their head against a piece of furniture, or falling/tripping over an object in the way, end up causing critical injuries. If there is a visible bump on the head, then judging the severity of an injury by focusing on the size of that bump is not a good idea. Mild injuries only cause temporary bruising and pain but seldom turn into something serious.
It is, however, crucial to seek the advice of a medical professional to assess your child if you think that there’s something wrong or odd about how they are. Even if you do realise that there’s nothing amiss with your child’s condition, keeping a close check for the next 24 hours after an injury is essential.
Should I let my child sleep after hitting their head?
If your child seems to be doing fine after getting a bump on their head, then it is alright to let them fall asleep. Although, if you notice that they are overly sleepy or appear disoriented, and it seems out of the ordinary, it is better to rush them to the nearest hospital or a peds clinic, whichever is closer.
You should keep a close eye on your child and continue to do so every hour. After the initial 4 hours are gone, and you ensure that your child is waking up from their sleep when gently roused, start checking them every 2 hours till the first 24 hours are up. Keep a check on their condition and their behavior and responses.
If you’re unsure of how hard your child hit their head or if they have been in an accident where they received hard and sudden jerks to the head, it may take days before the severity of the damage endured by the child becomes visible. There can be internal bleeding or swelling inside the brain, and the symptoms will be the same as the above-mentioned symptoms of a severe head injury.
It is why sometimes doctors suggest that children and younger babies should be kept awake for some time after an injury to the head. It is a difficult enough task since you cannot force children to stay awake, and it is nearly impossible since they end up feeling cranky and lethargic. Every head trauma requires monitoring, but this fact also stands true our brains and bodies heal faster during sleep. So, we suggest you let your child drift off after making a few initial assessments.
Can a concussion cause sleep-related problems?
The simple and straight answer to this question is yes. Sleep-related problems are most among concussion patients, and most of these disorders can be grouped under these issues:
- Insomnia or sleeping too little
- Hypersomnia or sleeping too much
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sudden sleeping episodes that occur during daytime or Narcolepsy
Among these, the most common are Insomnia and Hypersomnia. While both happen in the same part of the brain, they are complete opposites of each other. Their symptoms are the most commonly observed among all concussion cases. The other three are, however, rarely observed in concussion patients.
People who endure Insomnia stay tired because they actually do not get enough sleep every day. On the other hand, a person with Hypersomnia is terminally tired, much like a discharged battery that never works at full capacity because it isn’t charged enough. When awake, they feel lethargic and sleepy; no amount of sleep freshens them up.
Does a concussion affect everyone in the same way?
Every concussion is different and affects separate areas of a person’s brain. Our sleep cycle depends on the connection between various parts of our body and our brain. It is also why each person with a concussion shows varying degrees and kinds of sleep disorders and symptoms.
Head injuries can also cause severe distress by affecting the body’s autonomic nervous system or ANS. This system is responsible for all of the body’s automatic processes; it’s the stuff that is happening on its own or that you are doing without consciously thinking or planning. It includes the breathing system, the heart, and our involuntary responses like the fight or flight action, etc. Multiple studies are suggestive of the fact that many concussion patients have overly active nervous systems.
Your body relies on the internal clock to differentiate between sleeping and waking times, receiving information from various sources that affect us. They can include but are not limited to hormonal fluctuations, the temperature of the body, exposure to different kinds of light, and so on.
If our bodily systems are somehow turned off or are unbalanced because of an injury to the brain, our internal sleep clock will get confused. And that is why people find themselves sleeping and waking at odd hours or not sleeping enough or a little too much.
What treatments are available for sleep disorders due to concussion?
You can try going to a sleep specialist or a sleep doctor in case you do not start feeling alright, even if a couple of days have passed since your head injury. With sleep treatment, your doctor can help find the exact regions of your brain that are troubled due to the concussion. Then they can help you by adjusting your sleep patterns and helping your behavior.
If they find that your hormones have started dysfunctioning, they can recommend an appointment with an endocrine specialist who can help regulate your hormones through a specific medical regime.
Increasing the level of physical activity can have a significant impact because it can make an immense difference to your sleep and general well-being. However, there are times when some patients can start experiencing worsening systems with proper physical exercise. That is why many lose heart and stop working out, choosing a sedentary lifestyle because it hurts too bad otherwise. A sleep specialist can help by rehabilitating your body so that you can keep an active lifestyle.
Mindful techniques and breathing exercises like the ones offered by yoga can help miraculously. That will help you attain balance within. Some smartphone applications, like Beat, can also help with the autonomic nervous system. And last but not least is the professional help from a psychologist or psychotherapist. They will provide you with tools that you can use to heal from emotional trauma.
Should I take medication to treat my sleep?
Sleep medications are not always the best course of action or treatment that anyone should opt for, even whether you have suffered from a head injury or not. People can develop addictions to all such medications which can become difficult in the long term as the consequences can become dire.
If you’re facing a lot of trouble regarding your sleep schedule and your symptoms are not getting better, you’re sleeping too less, then the doctor may recommend a pill to help you relax and sleep. However, it is preferred by medical professionals to deal with such sleep disorders without adding medicines to the mix.
Moreover, none of the sleep medications ensure a deep restorative sleep, to put it simply, you may end up taking loads of medicines without getting a night of good quality sleep. Most of them only make you sleep longer, not better.
Some sleep specialists do suggest the use of melatonin, the natural sleep-inducing hormone. However, like with other unnatural medications, it is important to remember that artificial melatonin is not the real deal. Achieving good quality sleep should not be dependent on artificial ways.
Are there any other remedies for sleep-related concussion issues besides medication?
While it may not seem much, food is closely linked to sleep. There is much truth to the statement “you are what you eat.” It is essential for the optimum working of our body processes to have sufficient amounts of necessary vitamins and minerals so that our body can make neurotransmitters. It is also important to realize that having a fatty or high in sugars diet can pose multiple problems; poor quality of sleep is one of them.
Good healthy food and a healthier lifestyle can make an immense difference in our sleep patterns.
Any brain or head injury can turn into something serious or life-threatening, at its worst. You must find professional help in case you or someone around you suffers a blow to the head. While old beliefs about not sleeping after having a concussion are not true, there is a possibility that sleeping right after an injury may cover up or hide signs of a severe brain condition.
If you suspect that you have had a concussion then it is much better to get yourself checked at the nearest hospital. You cannot be too careful when it comes to accidents or injuries to the head, because while they are encased in a hard shell, our brains are extremely sensitive. It is always good to be sure about what’s happening with you instead of waiting for your condition to get worse.
Once the doctors confirm that there is nothing to worry about and you do not feel any aggravating symptoms, you can allow your brain to properly rest and heal with a night of good long sleep.