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Is too much rest bad for a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.

Concussions are common injuries, especially for athletes. It is estimated that there are 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States each year. Even what seems to be a mild bump to the head can be serious. Concussions can occur without losing consciousness.

While most people recover fully after a concussion, it is important to get plenty of rest and allow the brain time to heal after this injury. But some wonder if too much rest can actually slow recovery. This article will examine the effects of rest on concussion recovery and offer recommendations on the right amount of rest.

How Much Rest Is Recommended After a Concussion?

Most health experts recommend both physical and cognitive rest immediately after a concussion. This includes:

– Avoiding physical activity like sports, exercise, heavy lifting, etc. Physical activity can worsen symptoms and prolong recovery.

– Getting plenty of sleep at night and taking it easy during the day. Excessive brain stimulation can also exacerbate symptoms.

– Taking a break from cognitively demanding tasks like work, school, video games, texting, etc. This allows the brain to use its energy to heal.

But how much rest is too much? There are no firm guidelines, but most experts recommend:

– 24-48 hours of complete physical and cognitive rest immediately after the injury.

– Several days of reduced physical and mental activity after that, gradually increasing activity in a stepwise fashion as symptoms improve.

– Avoiding prolonged rest beyond a week or two.

The goal is to balance rest with gradual return to normal activity. Let’s look more closely at the potential risks of too much rest versus the benefits of getting the right amount of rest.

Risks of Too Much Rest

While the initial period of rest is important, too much rest and time away from work or school can cause problems of its own, including:

  • Weakness from lack of physical activity
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Deconditioning, with loss of muscle tone, strength, and endurance
  • Increased recovery time – Evidence shows that concussion symptoms often last longer when patients are inactive for too long.

Experts warn against falling into a downward spiral where inactivity leads to depression and reduced motivation, impairing recovery. Getting stuck in this loop can prolong symptoms significantly.

Too much rest may also compromise the brain’s ability to fully recover. Research shows the brain needs stimulation through activity in order to heal. Limited evidence suggests prolonged rest could reduce blood flow, oxygen, and glucose to the brain, which may hinder the healing process.

Benefits of Getting the Right Amount of Rest

On the other hand, getting the right balance of rest, followed by gradually increased activity, can provide the following benefits:

  • Allows acute symptoms to subside
  • Gives the brain energy to direct towards healing
  • Prevents overexertion that can worsen symptoms
  • Promotes full recovery
  • Reduces risk of repeat injury by not returning too soon
  • Improves treatment outcomes

Most experts emphasize that concussion recovery following the initial rest period requires getting up and going with activities of daily living rather than prolonged rest. This promotes healing through increased blood flow, oxygen, and glucose to the brain.

How Can You Tell if You’re Getting Too Much Rest?

Since every concussion is different, there are no set rules on exact rest duration. So how do you know if you’re resting too long after a concussion? Here are some signs it may be time to start increasing activity:

– Your symptoms have subsided and are improving steadily with rest. If symptoms persist or get worse, speak to your doctor.

– It has been at least 1-2 weeks since your concussion. Most concussions improve substantially within 1-2 weeks.

– You feel up to tolerating gradual increases in physical and mental activity.

– You feel restless, irritable, depressed, and unmotivated from too much rest.

– You notice declines in function, strength, endurance, and mental sharpness from inactivity.

As soon as these signs emerge, you can start slowly increasing your activity level while monitoring your symptoms to avoid overexertion.

Tips for Gradually Resuming Activity After Concussion Rest

When you feel ready to start becoming more active after an initial rest period, increase activity gradually using the following tips:

  • Consult your healthcare provider about appropriate timing and activities to resume.
  • Increase physical and mental activity slowly in stages. Don’t go straight from minimal activity back to your full routine.
  • Take frequent breaks during activities. Spread activities over smaller intervals if needed.
  • Closely monitor symptoms and avoid activities that aggravate symptoms.
  • Increase activity a little each day. Take a step back if symptoms worsen.
  • Prioritize activities. Some activities like work or school should take precedence over others upon return.
  • Listen to your body. Increase activity conservatively even if you feel capable of more.
  • Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest between activity.
  • Avoid contact sports and high risk activities until fully recovered.

Carefully pacing your return to activity can help ensure a full recovery without overtaxing your brain too soon.

Strategies for a Gradual Return to Daily Life

Here are some practical strategies you can use to steadily increase physical and mental activity without overdoing it:

Return to Physical Activity

  • Start with light activity like walking, stationary biking or swimming.
  • Begin with 5-15 minutes at low intensity and gradually increase duration and intensity.
  • Add in simple aerobic activity before progressing to more vigorous exercise.
  • Wait to return to sports until you can tolerate full practice without symptoms.
  • If you experience new or worsening symptoms, go back to the previous step.

Return to Work/School

  • Ask if you can return gradually, starting with partial days or modified tasks.
  • Take frequent breaks when doing cognitive tasks.
  • Request accommodations like reduced hours, workload and exposure to noise/fluorescent lighting.
  • Avoid standardized testing or high-stakes projects until fully back.
  • Let your employer/school know if you need to decrease activity temporarily.

Return to Home Life

  • Prioritize necessary tasks like caring for family and household chores.
  • Resume hobbies, social activities and leisure reading gradually.
  • Limit activities requiring concentration like video games, texting, etc.
  • Ask for help from family and friends when needed.

Carefully pacing an increase in stimulation and challenges can help promote healing without aggravating your symptoms.

The Takeaway

While concussion recovery requires initial rest, prolonged rest beyond a week or two can hinder the brain’s healing process. Symptoms often last longer with too little activity. The key is to balance rest with a gradual return to daily activities like work, school, and chores. This promotes full recovery by increasing blood flow and stimulation to the healing brain.

Listen to your symptoms and proceed slowly in increments you can tolerate. Enlist help from your support network and healthcare provider. With this approach, you can optimize your recovery and avoid complications from spending too much time at rest. The ultimate goal is to regain full activity as soon as your brain is ready.


In summary, concussion recovery requires:

  • 24-48 hours of complete physical and cognitive rest immediately after injury
  • Several additional days of reduced activity, depending on symptoms
  • Gradually increased activity over days to weeks as symptoms improve
  • Avoiding prolonged rest beyond 1-2 weeks
  • Monitoring symptoms closely and pacing increases conservatively
  • Support from your healthcare provider and loved ones

The right balance of rest and activity stimulates the brain’s natural healing process. Listen to your symptoms, take it slow, and be patient through the ups and downs. With this approach, you can recover fully and avoid potential pitfalls of too much rest.