Is It Safe to Sleep After Getting a Concussion?

It's a common misconception that it's dangerous to snooze while concussed, but sleep can actually boost your brain's recovery. Here's how to do it safely.

By Max Bennett; Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ahmad Talha Azam
Feb 20, 2024 2:00 PM
Sick Woman Using an Ice Bag o Alleviate Migraine - stock photo Unhappy person having a headache after physical injury at home
(Credit: nicoletaionescu/Shutterstock)


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Concussion management has long been a problem for doctors, patients, and coaches alike. In the U.S., experts estimate that there are between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions every year, often among youth athletes.

Still despite their prevalence, there are still plenty of misconceptions surrounding concussions — which can cause headaches for physicians, as well. One of the most common misconceptions? That it's not safe to sleep while concussed. Yet, when it comes to recovery, sometimes it actually is okay to sleep on things. 

Neuropsychologist Elizabeth Pieroth, director of the Concussion Program at Rush University Medical Center and Midwest Orthopedics at Rush, often finds herself communicating this nuance to patients and practitioners.

“Initially, there is concern for life-threatening brain injuries, like swelling of the brain or hemorrhage, so you need to check in,” Pieroth says. “But, if symptoms don’t worsen over the course of hours, it's generally okay for the patient to sleep.” 

What Is a Concussion?

Simply put, a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that results from a blow, bump, or jolt to the head, or a violent shaking of the body. (Even a hit to the chest, for example, can whiplash the neck, and by extension the brain.) This sudden impact can cause the brain to jostle around within the skull, triggering a cascade of chemical changes and potentially damaging and stretching individual brain cells.

Read More: What A Concussion Does To Your Brain

That trauma can leading to a variety of symptoms, including headache, nausea, confusion, and potentially even loss of consciousness. And while they are important to treat properly, concussions are rarely life-threatening: Most people tend to recover within a few days to a couple of weeks.

Still, there are exceptions. For some patients, these symptoms may linger, potentially harming their cognitive function — a condition known as post-concussive syndrome, or PCS. Around 15 percent of concussion patients experience PCS, and a small minority of those may have persistent symptoms requiring further treatment.

What's more, researchers have found that persistent PCS can have lasting effects on cognition, learning, memory, and executive function. Plus, patients who have already suffered a concussion are at greater risk for PCS in the future.

What's the Danger of Sleeping with a Concussion?

One of the main concerns about sleeping with a concussion is the fear of worsening symptoms, or of missing signs of a more severe brain injury. However, Pieroth says that sleep is essential for the body's healing processes. In people with concussions, sleeping can actually speed up recovery by giving the brain the rest it needs to repair cellular damage. 

At the same time, Pieroth cautions that while some extra sleep is important to recalibrate the body, too much rest can throw off your sleep cycles. “If you’re tired, sleep, but it’s important to not overly restrict your body,” she says. 

Read More: "Smart" Mouth Guards Are Helping Scientists Study Head Trauma in Football Players

Another misconception is that sleeping with a concussion can cause an individual to slip into a coma. But scientists now know that fear is unfounded: While it's true that in rare cases, severe brain injuries can result in a comatose state, the vast majority of concussions do not pose that risk — particularly if the patient is able to remain conscious after the injury.

When Is it Safe to Sleep After a Concussion?

While it's usually safe to sleep with a concussion, there are some important factors to keep in mind while monitoring those initial symptoms.

First and foremost, it's essential to look for any intensifying symptoms during that recovery period, says Pieroth, such as worsening headache, persistent vomiting, slurring words, or seizures. If any of those symptoms emerge, seek immediate medical attention.  

Your sleeping position can also help maximize recovery. While there's no one-size-fits-all recommendation, experts generally advise sleeping in a position that feels the most neutral, aligning the head and spine. This may involve propping yourself up with pillows to reduce pressure on the neck, or side-sleeping to improve circulation. 

How to Boost Recovery After a Concussion

Another key consideration is your level of activity and relaxation in the days following a concussion. While it's best to avoid intense physical activity, gentle physical movements are generally encouraged, and can help speed up the recovery process. This might include taking short walks, so long as they don't exacerbate any symptoms. 

“Our advice is just a ten-minute walk,” Pieroth says. “Sleep, time, and movement. That’s the standard of care, and usually you can recover within a few weeks. If recovery is taking longer than that there’s usually something else going on.” 

So, while sleeping after a concussion may indeed help your brain heal, it’s also important to engage in physical activity early to continue promoting that recovery. 

"Earlier intervention is best," adds Pieroth, who notes that seeing a concussion specialist early in the process is also important. "The key is being proactive and helping patients get back on their feet sooner. Sometimes there’s too much passivity with treatment.” 

Read More: Brains Have A Remarkable Ability To Rewire Themselves Following Injury

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