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CARE Consortium: Sleep duration and concussion recovery

Study explores how sleep influences symptoms

Nicole Hoffman, a doctoral research assistant at Georgia’s Concussion Research Laboratory, led a team of researchers who examined how someone’s sleep duration affects symptoms and recovery in the days after a concussion. The November 2017 paper, published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, used data drawn from 423 college athletes who took part in the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium study and who had been diagnosed with a concussion.

What did the study find? 

Sleep duration in the days after a concussion did not affect recovery time. However, those who slept less tended to have more severe symptoms and displayed slower reaction time through the recovery process. Their cognitive processing speed remained slower for up to two days after the injury and poor reaction time persisted even after other symptoms had been resolved.

“Even though the hours spent sleeping at night did not affect the number of days that it took to recover in our study, those individuals who sleep less after injury also experienced slower reaction times persisting once they were no longer experiencing symptoms,” Hoffman said.

What are the implications?

Given these findings, it’s important for medical personnel treating concussed athletes to ask about their sleep after a concussion. Those who report sleeping less should be given extra attention given the likelihood that they will experience worse symptoms. “Clinicians should consider screening for individuals that report sleeping less immediately following concussion in order to mitigate negative effects,” Hoffman said.

What’s next?

While the paper does have an immediate, tangible, impact for clinicians, a few key questions linger. Further study on the topic is warranted, especially among those with a history of mental illness or who take medications that can impact sleep. “Researchers should consider examining habitual length of time sleeping at night, as well as controlling for current medication use throughout recovery in individuals that self-report a history of mental illness,” Hoffman said.