Rest for the first 24 hours. Rest after physical activity. Rest if your symptoms begin to flare up.
If you had a dollar for every time someone told you to rest after a head injury, chances are, you’d be a millionaire by now. But why is rest always the go-to solution for head injury symptoms — and is it really all that effective? Well, as a neuroscientist and functional medicine practitioner who’s dealt with my own concussion issues, I can confirm that rest is a major cure for injury symptoms.
However, it’s certainly not the only cure.
Rest is simply one piece of the puzzle when recovering from a head injury. Fortunately, it’s also the easiest to work into your regular schedule. Other methods to improve your head injury symptoms, like exercise and similar lifestyle modifications, are often much easier to incorporate once you’ve given your body a chance to rest. Here are the steps you can take to cure your injury symptoms.
Why is Proper Rest a Must After a Head Injury?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) common after a direct blow to the head or rapid deceleration in momentum. Concussions and other serious TBIs occur when the soft matter of the brain shakes or bounces against the hard bones of the skull. This motion causes chemical changes to brain cells and stretches nerve fibers in a way that interrupts normal brain function.
After a head injury like a TBI, rest is always the first-prescribed method to begin to heal. This is because your brain can trigger the release of beneficial hormones to encourage tissue growth and repair while you sleep. For instance, human-growth hormone (HGH) is a chemical primarily released during sleep that can potentially help repair damaged blood vessels inside the brain.
Likewise, sleep releases additional hormones that relax the muscles of your body, which can help reduce painful inflammation and promote healing. Not to mention, a proper night’s rest allows your body to produce more white blood cells. These champions of your immune system help your body ward off viruses and bacteria that could slow or stop your healing process from a head injury.
How Else Can I Curb Head Trauma Symptoms?
Recovering from a head injury is a marathon, not a race. You want to take your recovery slow in the beginning — like by starting with plain old rest. With time, you can begin to integrate the following aspects of care into your daily routine, to heal the underlying damage and curb injury symptoms.
1. Enhance Your Diet and Nutrition
If you’ve watched my Little Known Side-Effects of Concussions video series, you’ll know that the disarray of hormones after a head injury can cause the immune system in the gut to become over reactive. What does the gut do when the immune system flairs up? It becomes inflamed. This inflammation can worsen current head injury symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
What you allow into your body through diet and nutrition can either help or hinder the inflammation in your gut. So, if you’re going to start anywhere in your journey to healing a head injury, start by removing immune-stimulating foods that will worsen inflammation, like:
- Processed foods, like sweetened breakfast cereals
- Gluten-rich foods, such as wheat, barley, oats, rye
- Beans and legumes, like kidney beans and lentils
- Nightshades, such as tomatoes and potatoes
- High-sugar foods, like candy and soft drinks
Strive to eat a balanced diet of whole foods, like green vegetables, fresh fruits, meat, fish, and eggs. My personal recommendation is to dedicate one day to meal-prepping each week. For instance, you can meal prep on Sunday morning, so that come the work or school week, you don’t have to jump to processed, sugar-laden foods. Work with a holistic nutritionist to plan meals that work for you.
2. Ramp Up Exercise and Movement
Once you’ve begun to adjust your diet and nutrition, you can move along to exercise. Now, I know firsthand how difficult any type of exercise can be following a head injury. I remember only being able to complete 5 to 10 minutes of physical activity at a time while healing from my TBI, and even that would exhaust me. Just like learning how to change your diet, take exercise at your own pace.
You need to start moving, even at 2-minute, 3-minute, or 5-minute intervals. Go for a walk, dance with your partner, or do anything that gets your heart rate up for just a few minutes. Start small, and you can build momentum each day. Also, consider working with a personal trainer who has experience with TBIs and head injuries, so they can help you ease back into an active lifestyle.
3. Limit Blue Light Exposure
Blue light is all around us — from fluorescent and LED lights to lights from phone screens, TV screens, and computer screens. Blue light (or what I call junk light!) is a dominantly blue wavelength of light that encourages the brain to produce wakefulness and alertness hormones when it hits the retinas in our eyes and reaches the back of the brain.
What does this all mean? Over time, blue light exposure messes with your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. You ultimately cannot enter deep, restorative sleep. Instead, your brain wants to turn itself on at night, and eventually, your resources deplete. You become stuck in an endless cycle of being tired all day and becoming ramped up at night, unable to sleep.
Fortunately, there are ways to limit blue light exposure:
- Wear blue light blocking glasses
- Add a screen filter to your electronics, like your smartphone
- Take regular breaks from TV or computer screens to focus on another object
- Power down your electronic devices three hours before bed
4. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
A good night’s sleep is easier said than done after a head injury. Many people experience post-concussion sleep problems that range from hypersomnia (too much sleep that leaves you feeling groggy) to insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep). To get the rest you need to heal after a concussion or TBI, start by addressing your sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene involves the behaviors and environments that shape your sleeping habits. Good sleep hygiene means doing things to prepare yourself to get the best sleep possible. Due to the upper cervical (neck) and jaw-related problems that can accompany a head injury, I typically recommend receiving a sleep assessment to address any breathing problems, which are common after a TBI.
Steps to improve your sleep hygiene for a better night’s rest include:
- Getting a sweat in sometime between dinner and bedtime (sauna, hot yoga, a warm bath)
- Keeping your cell phone away from your head when you sleep
- Setting your bedroom to an ideal temperature (65°F or 18°C)
- Using a sleep mask or blackout curtains
Can I Truly Cure My Ongoing Symptoms?
There is always hope to cure your ongoing head injury symptoms! In all of my years with Neurvana Naturopathic Medicine, I’ve never seen a patient unable to improve their functioning after a head injury. Never let anyone — professional or otherwise — tell you that your head injury symptoms are just something to live with. I’ve never seen that to be the case!
Lifestyle changes are absolutely essential to improving from a concussion. Most often, recovery is a one step at a time paradigm. Slowly begin to incorporate one of the above methods into your daily routine. Once you’re comfortable, move on to the next. Treat your recovery like a marathon and address each lifestyle change one by one, remembering to be kind to your body as it begins to heal.
Begin to proactively address concussion symptoms.
Rest is key to head injury recovery, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Learn how a naturopathic care team can help you cure those stubborn symptoms for good.