Tips From the Experts
The trusted, expert staff at CHOP offers information and tips to help you support your child during his recovery from a concussion.
In this section, you'll find information about:
Nutrition and concussion
Good nutrition is important to maintain our mental and physical health. This is particularly important when recovering from physical trauma, such as a concussion. While much is still unknown about the exact relationship between nutrition and brain function, we do know that when a part of the body is injured, it needs specific nutrients to heal and make it better. The same is true for the brain. When a concussion occurs, the brain requires extra energy (i.e., nutrition) as it works to heal the injury.
Tips for healthy nutrition after a concussion
With a concussion, your child’s appetite may decrease. Here is how you can help:
- Offer small, frequent meals every two to three hours throughout the day, instead of three large meals.
- Do not allow your child to skip meals, especially breakfast.
- Provide power snacks, such as fruit, 100 percent fruit juice, smoothies and trail mix (dried fruit, nuts, dark chocolate).
Water makes up more than half of kids’ body weight and is needed to keep all parts of the body functioning properly. After a concussion, children will be more susceptible to dehydration, especially when they are just beginning to exercise again or when they are out in the hot sun or high humidity.
Tips for staying hydrated after a concussion
- Offer a variety of fluids throughout the day – not just when your child is thirsty. There’s no specific amount of fluid recommended for children.
- Add natural flavor if your child doesn’t like plain water, add a bit of lemon or lime.
- Provide smoothies, fruits and veggies, which are good sources of fluid.
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Sleep and concussion
Sleep is essential to your child’s overall well-being. It is especially important if your child has a concussion. Many children who have suffered a concussion will have sleep problems, including insomnia (difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep), fatigue and daytime sleepiness. In fact, after headaches, sleep problems are the most common complaint after a concussion.
You may also find that your child is sleeping a great deal in the first few days and weeks following a concussion. This is because the brain and body need rest after a concussion.
Tips for better sleep after a concussion
The following recommendations are intended to help your child sleep once she is past the first few days or weeks after a concussion. If your child’s healthcare provider has recommended cognitive rest immediately after injury, please discuss how you should manage her sleep during that time. Discuss the following tips with your child:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Try going to bed around the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. On weekends, don’t go to bed more than one hour later than your usual bedtime on school nights. Although you do not need to get up as early on weekends as on school days, be sure to get up by 9 or 9:30 so you don't shift your sleep schedule too much.
- Get enough sleep at night. School-aged children (6-12 years) need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep per night. Adolescents (13-18 years) require between 9 and 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Be sure that you are getting the amount of sleep you need at night.
- Have a consistent bedtime routine to help you relax each night before bed. This can include such things as taking a bath or shower before bedtime followed by a few minutes of reading.
- Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. If you are not sleepy at bedtime, you can read a book, listen to soft music or do something else that is relaxing. Find something relaxing, but not stimulating, to take your mind off worries about sleep. This will relax your body and distract your mind.
- If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, then get out of bed. Find something else to do that will help you relax. Don’t text your friends, check email or play video games. If you feel you want to do these things, do them in another room. Once you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.
- Avoid taking naps if you can. If you must take a nap, try to keep it short (less than one hour). Try not to take a nap after 3 p.m. so that you can fall asleep at bedtime.
- Keep a regular schedule. Regular times for meals, medications, chores and other activities help keep your inner body clock running smoothly.
- Avoid caffeine. Most children and teens should avoid all caffeine. If that’s not possible, make sure you don’t have any caffeine after lunchtime, as it may cause you to have problems sleeping that night.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool. Make your bedroom a sleep haven by keeping it quiet and dark. Cooler is also better for sleep.
- Keep all electronics out of the bedroom. Your bedroom should be for sleeping only. Studies find that electronics, including televisions, cell phones, computers and video games, all interfere with sleep.
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Driving and concussion
Concussions can affect the way drivers think and act, getting in the way of making good decisions and making it too hard to detect and avoid hazards on the road. Driving with concussion symptoms can be dangerous not only for your teen driver, but also for his passengers and others on the road. Concussions change the way the brain functions, causing temporary physical and mental impairments including:
- Slower reaction time
- Trouble paying attention
- Poor physical coordination
- Poor judgment
A concussion is a form of impairment. Driving while impaired, no matter the cause, can increase your child’s risk of a motor vehicle crash. Just like the brain needs to heal before returning to school and sports, the brain needs to heal before getting back to driving.
Tips to stay safe after a concussion
- Discuss concerns about your teen’s driving with your child’s physicians or concussion specialists so they know that a return to driving is a goal for your teen.
- Explain to your teen that the temporary driving restrictions are in place for safety — not for control. Listen to your teen and acknowledge her concerns.
- Arrange for other ways for your teen to get to school and activities until your teen’s healthcare provider has determined the concussion has sufficiently healed.
- The physician might suggest a gradual return to driving as your teen’s concussion symptoms resolve.
- Be aware that some concussion symptoms are especially dangerous for drivers.
- If your child reports that bright lights trigger symptoms, he should not be driving at night because the lights from oncoming traffic can trigger symptoms (like headaches) and get in the way of safe driving.
- If changes in position or rapid turns of the head generally trigger concussion symptoms, your teen might instinctively avoid these movements or trigger symptoms. Either way, your teen will not be able to scan the road effectively, making it harder to detect and avoid a hazard.
- You may want to have your teen evaluated by a certified driving evaluator before she resumes driving.
- Check out TeenDriverSource.org, a website developed by CHOP’s teen driving experts to help you safely navigate your teen’s first years of driving.
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Keeping a log of your child’s symptoms
Use this simple calendar to monitor your child's concussion symptoms during the recovery process. This will help you to see how your child is progressing through the step-by-step Return to Learn or Return to Play plan and what your child can tolerate without triggering symptoms. You may want to share the log with your physician during follow-up visits.
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