We are still learning a lot about how to help the brain recover after an injury. But for now, experts agree that rest is best.
People who experience a concussion need to give the brain time to recover and restore its normal function. Usually this means getting physical rest for a while, and athletes know they must wait to return to play.
But in addition to physical rest after concussion, it’s also important to take a cognitive rest—known as brain rest.
What is brain rest?
Brain rest means that those recovering from a concussion should refrain from any activities that are mentally taxing. This doesn’t mean they need to sit in a dark room all day and try not to think about anything. Rather, they should avoid activities that require more demanding mental processes, like reaction time, memory, or multitasking.
The evidence to recommend brain rest is growing. Research is ongoing, but some studies have shown that it may allow the brain to recover more quickly by giving it time to restore cerebral blood flow and conserve energy. Some evidence suggests it may even cut recovery time in half.
How to practice brain rest
Immediately following a concussion and for a few days afterward, patients are encouraged to practice complete brain rest as best as they can. Then, they can return to mild to moderate cognitive activities as their concussion symptoms fade (and at the advice of their physician).
These steps can help concussion patients avoid cognitive strain and practice brain rest:
- Take some time off work, or adjust demanding projects.
It’s difficult to step away from your work responsibilities, but considering 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.
- Focus on one task at a time.
You may pride yourself on your ability to multitask, but after a concussion it’s helpful to give multitasking a rest and focus your mental energy on one task at a time.
- Ease up on housework.
It’s OK to do some light housekeeping, but postpone or get help with any chores that are physically or mentally challenging, such as scrubbing the tub, paying bills, or following a complex recipe.
- Take the passenger’s seat.
Keep yourself and others safe by taking a break from activities that require skills in reaction time or hand-eye coordination, such as driving, bike riding, or operating machinery.
- Put off big decisions.
If you can, delay making any major financial, personal, or professional decisions until you’re fully recovered from a concussion. If a decision can’t be delayed, enlist the help of a trusted family member or friend.
- Rest your powers of recall.
Short-term memory is often affected by a concussion and can be one of the later symptoms to linger during recovery. Get help with tasks that require use of short-term memory, and take lots of notes to help you keep track of reminders or to-do items. In addition to traditional note pads, there are several smartphone apps that can be helpful for making and tracking notes.
Just how long someone who has experienced a concussion should practice brain rest can vary greatly and depends on how recovery is progressing. A physician or a concussion specialist should oversee each individual’s recovery process.
Brain rest after a concussion is even more important for young and growing brains, so children who experience a concussion may need to take time out from homework, video games, and other activities in order to practice brain rest. Read more about the importance of brain rest for children who have had a concussion.