Concussion Recovery: Insights on Sleep and Caffeine

| By Dr. Jennifer Hunnicutt

Looking at the recent research on caffeine and sleep aids in concussion recovery

Concussions are a form of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and affect millions annually.

Emerging research underscores the complexity of concussion recovery, revealing that factors like sleep, caffeine consumption, and the use of sleep aids play pivotal roles in influencing the brain’s healing process.

Today’s blog features a unique perspective on concussion research through animal research. We reviewed a recent animal study by Everson et al. in which researchers induced brain injuries in rats and then studied the effects of caffeine, sleep, and sleep aids on recovery.

The Dynamic Nature of Concussion Recovery: What Does Animal Research Say?

Recent studies using animal models provide compelling evidence that in the aftermath of a concussion, there is a period of significant changes to the nervous system. This research highlights the long-lasting changes in the brain’s microstructure, emphasizing an ongoing process of healing, compensation, and possibly, recruitment of new neural pathways.

Caffeine: A Double-Edged Sword

Caffeine, a common stimulant, shows a complex relationship with concussion recovery. The research indicates that caffeine can affect blood flow in the brain and potentially exacerbate or alleviate certain aspects of brain injury. This duality calls for a cautious approach to using caffeine during the critical phases of concussion healing. So let’s maybe hold the coffee following concussion! But keep in mind that more research is needed in human subjects.

The Impact of Sleep Loss

Sleep, an essential component of recovery, has a nuanced role post-concussion. The study found that sleep deprivation immediately following a concussion could alter brain function in significant ways. This introduces a new perspective on the traditional rest-and-recover advice, suggesting that the timing and quality of sleep after a concussion need careful consideration to support optimal recovery. Make sure to check with your healthcare provider for advice on managing sleep post-concussion.

Sleep Aids and Their Effects

Turning to sleep aids to restore normal sleep patterns post-concussion might not always yield the expected benefits. The study suggests that while promoting sleep can be generally beneficial, the specific impacts of drug-induced sleep on concussion recovery warrant more research. Medications that aid sleep may interact with the brain’s recovery processes in unforeseen ways.

The Translation from Animal to Human Research in Concussion

Keep in mind that animal research is meant to inform future human research studies and is just the beginning in the translational research continuum. The insights gained from this research pave the way for rethinking concussion recovery protocols. Understanding how caffeine intake, sleep patterns, and the use of sleep aids can influence the healing process offers a foundation for developing more effective recovery strategies.

Toward More Tailored Concussion Recovery Programs

Concussion recovery is a complex and dynamic process, influenced by various factors, such as sleep aids and stimulants like caffeine, evidenced by the research highlighted on this blog. As we deepen our understanding of these relationships, the potential for tailored recovery plans becomes evident, leading to improved outcomes for those recovering from concussions.


Everson CA, Szabo A, Plyer C, Hammeke TA, Stemper BD, Budde MD. Sleep loss, caffeine, sleep aids and sedation modify brain abnormalities of mild traumatic brain injury. Exp Neurol. 2024 Feb;372:114620. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2023.114620. Epub 2023 Nov 28. PMID: 38029810.

Dr. Jennifer Hunnicutt

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