Let head injuries sleep or keep them awake?

So your youngster fell off the play equipment again and got a head bump…. Now, of course, you have to keep waking them up all night, don’t you? Let’s look at this myth and what you should actually be doing.

sleepy kitty

First of all….

Let me just check that you spoke with a doctor, nurse, or someone about your little person’s head injury? If they had a fall that was significant enough you’re worried about them sleeping, make sure you had them checked out. We can tell you what to look out for and if you should use an ice-pack, but last time we checked your own health care provider was still better than Dr. Google.

OK, so why should we keep them awake?

We hear this in class regularly – people with head injuries need to be kept awake for 2 hrs, 6 hrs, 12 hrs….. or at least woken up every…. half hour, hour, 2 hrs, whatever. There seems to be the idea that somehow if they go to sleep, they’ll die. After a lot of searching, it seems that once upon a time (sounds like a bad fairy-tale) people suggested waking the person up regularly and if you couldn’t, then they had to come to hospital.

Good news for head injuries

Times have changed and there are more scientific assessment tools now. You no longer need to keep someone awake, or keep waking them up. In fact the best treatment for an injured brain is resting it. To the extent that I was told ‘no TV, no reading, no computers, etc.’ Makes you wonder what a person should be doing besides ‘resting’. Anyway, back to the head bump. Keep them alert for a little while so you can assess them for any signs of a worsening head injury. Then it’s fine to let them sleep.

See also: why we think we should keep people conscious.


About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at Squamish General Hospital as the pharmacist manager when not busy training safety
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3 Responses to Let head injuries sleep or keep them awake?

  1. Paul says:

    As much as I think this could make a good discussion I would defer 100% to my son’s doctor regardless of what might be discussed here. If my toddler were to bump his head hard enough to cause this type of concern he would 1. go to the ER and then 2. be followed up with a phone call to his doctor and a follow up appt made. If the doctors said to keep him awake he would be kept awake and if they said it were not necessary he would not! There is too much as stake to put any credibility into any ‘study’ or anything I might read or research on the Internet. My son’s doctor trumps all.

    • Tony Howarth says:

      I’d love to hear from any docs (or anyone) who do say ‘keep them awake’ – I’m curious to know why. Couldn’t really find any information except ‘it’s an old wives tale’. Sure it maybe but there’s usually some reason behind those! Anyone?

  2. Pingback: Five of Your First Aid Questions, Answered | Safety un-Limited

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