Athletes With Concussions: Research Suggests Limited Screen Time

The proliferation of digital devices in our lives since the iPhone heralded the smartphone revolution in 2007 has given parents, educators, doctors and researchers much to think about in terms of how much time is appropriate to spend looking at screens each day. A 2015 report from Common Sense media estimated that teenagers spend a staggering nine hours each day with digital media. While there are different schools of thought on screen time in general, there is one situation that doctors and researchers agree on about the subject and it is closely related to another recent hot button issue in parenting; concussions.

Sports Illustrated recently reported on a study by FAIR Health that found concussion diagnosis in youth sports have increased an incredible 500 percent between 2010 and 2014. 46 percent of those concussions were diagnosed in teens between the ages of 15 and 18. According to an article in The Atlantic, it can take children more time than adults to get back to full cognitive function after suffering from a concussion. This is a major concern for parents of student athletes. It is critically important to understand what to do after a concussion and to carefully follow doctor’s orders to help expedite recovery.

Every concussion is different and requires recommendations specific to each patient, however, there seems to be a universal consensus that limiting screen time is important for full recovery. Dr. Tracey Covassin writes on WebMD that while teens probably won’t like it, she recommends “No video games, no texting, no using the computer, and no watching TV,” for seven to ten days post-concussion. Pediatric and sports medicine specialist Dr. Chris Koutures suggests on his blog a “pragmatic approach to screen use after concussion,” based on a number of various studies on the topic.

One such study determined that LED screen use, particularly at night, can disrupt sleep, a critical component of recovery. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America published the study indicating that “the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.” Disrupting sleep patterns can have an adverse effect on successful recovery.

The most clinical admonishment of screen use after a concussion comes from a study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Their study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that increased mental stimulation such as that caused by use of electronic devices doubled recovery time. According to Medical Daily, based on these findings, senior researcher on the study William Meehan said “We recommend a period of near full mental rest after injury – approximately three to five days – followed by a gradual return to full levels of mental activity.

Concussions are serious injuries that require immediate attention and strict adherence to doctor’s recommendations. Based on a variety of clinical studies and doctor recommendations, complete, successful and timely recovery is largely dependent on mental rest. Listen to doctor’s orders in regards to reducing or eliminating screen use in the days after a concussion.

Photo credit: xanteen via / CC BY-NC


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