Immediately following a concussion, patients are typically instructed to limit both physical and cognitive activity for a few days.
Reducing cognitive activity is also called brain rest. Brain rest protects the brain from mental stress as it recovers and restores its normal function. Many doctors encourage this protocol with the goal of improving recovery time, but research on this is ongoing.
How to practice brain rest
Brain rest doesn’t mean you need to sit in a dark room all day and try not to think about anything. Rather, you avoid activities that require demanding mental processes, such as reaction time, memory, or multitasking.
Here are some brain rest ideas for concussion recovery:
1. Take time off work and/or school.
It’s difficult to step away from your work responsibilities for a few days, but consider using some sick or vacation time to take a break and allow your brain to heal.
If that’s not possible, talk to your employer about a temporary pause or reassignment for your most mentally taxing projects.
For students, ask your teacher and school administrators to work with you to modify your workload. Diving right back into complex problem-solving can exacerbate concussion symptoms.
2. Focus on one task at a time.
You may pride yourself on your ability to juggle multiple projects and to-do lists at once. But after a concussion, it’s helpful to give multitasking a rest and focus your mental energy on one task at a time.
Give yourself a break and know that it will likely take you longer than usual to get things done.
3. Limit yourself to easy chores.
Don’t overdo it at home. Attend only to low-energy housekeeping tasks like washing the dishes and feeding pets. Postpone or get help with more challenging chores, such as paying bills, following a complex cooking recipe, or heavy-duty cleaning jobs.
4. Get in the passenger’s seat.
While recovering from a concussion, operating heavy machinery and relying on quick reaction time should be avoided. If you need to get somewhere, don’t drive a car or ride a bike. Instead, ask a family member or friend for a ride, order a ride-sharing service from your phone, or take public transit. These options keep you and others around you safe.
5. Relax with comfortable, simple hobbies.
Skip stimulating pastimes, such as strategy games, complicated books, or word puzzles. When you’re not sleeping or resting, spend your time with activities that won’t tax your brain, such as listening to podcasts or music and watching classic or animated movies.
Many people progressively add cognitive activities back into their routines as concussion symptoms fade. When you add a new activity—whether it is a mental or physical activity—pay attention to how your body reacts during and after. If you feel fine after 24 hours, consider adding another activity to your routine. If symptoms worsen, scale back activity and rest.
Precisely how long you should practice brain rest depends on how recovery progresses. A physician should closely monitor your recovery and adjust recommendations as symptoms improve.