Brain Injury Awareness Month takes place in March each year, organized by the Brain Injury Association of America. The purpose of Brain Injury Awareness month is to create better understanding and to increase supportive resources for those living with brain injuries. It has been estimated that approximately 3 million sport and recreation related concussions happen each year, and about half of them will go unreported. While the signs and symptoms can vary widely, there are certain interventions that tend to be helpful in any case. 

1) Sunlight

Getting daily exposure to sunlight, especially in the morning, has been shown in clinical research to help improve sleep, mood, and energy levels. This is accomplished by resetting our ‘biological clock’, which is also known as circadian rhythm. The rays of sunlight go through the eye and the optic nerve to affect an area of the brain known as the pineal gland, which helps control sleep/wake cycles. This is often disrupted in people who have suffered a concussion; which can prolong the healing process. As little as 10 minutes of sunlight exposure on a daily basis is enough for most.

2) Tech Hygiene

As mentioned above, the pineal gland plays a big role in sleep/wake cycles and is primarily affected by light exposure. This can be used to improve our brain health but can also be a detriment. Between phones, tablets, and TV’s, most people are taking in LED light well after sunset. The light signals from these devices activate the pineal gland to think it is daytime, which disrupts the brain’s process of powering down for sleep. Keeping screen time to a minimum after dark has been shown to improve the duration and quality of sleep, an important factor for anyone’s brain health.

3) Healthy Fats

Your brain is composed of mostly fat molecules. For that reason, getting adequate and diverse fat from your diet is crucial for healing from a brain injury. Our nerve cells are insulated by a material called myelin that is 70% fat. Dietary fat can provide the raw building blocks these cells need, as well as keeping our inflammation response at an appropriate level. Cold water fish, nuts, and avocado are good sources of essential fats.

4) Avoid Alcohol

This one can be unpopular, but cutting out alcohol can be one of the most important action steps for healing from a concussion. Alcohol is toxic to our nerve cells and can interfere with brain function by slowing signal transmission. This effect on the cerebellum, which controls our balance and coordination, is responsible for the breakdown of movement associated with being drunk. Alcohol also reduces the body’s ability to absorb B vitamins from our food. B vitamins are crucial for nerve cell function and healing.

5) Minimize Dietary Sugar and Sweeteners

Sugar and sweets cravings tend to increase after a concussion. There are a number of causes/reasons for this, but the bottom line is sugar reduces healing when consumed in too high of quantities (not to mention can increase risk for dementia and neurodegeneration). In order for molecules from our food to give us energy, the body has to break those molecules down. Similar to how cars burn gasoline to create exhaust, ‘burning’ sugar for energy creates stress on the body. Specifically, oxidative stress can accelerate the aging process and prolong concussion symptoms.

6) Stay Active

Many of the patients who seek care in our office for a concussion have been seeking refuge in a dark room prior to treatment. This makes sense with photophobia and hyperacusis (light and sound sensitivity) being common symptoms of this condition. The most up-to-date medical research shows that this is the opposite of what our brains need. The best evidence available supports “active recovery” for concussion patients, within a symptom free threshold. This may look like taking a short walk outside, enjoying a slow yoga flow, or even working on a word search puzzle. Activating our brain within a comfortable range is one of the most important aspects of recovery.

7) Breathe

Concentrating on one’s own breathing can be a very powerful tool. Not only does mindful breathwork improve our oxygen levels, it is also a great way to enhance calmness and focus. By keeping our thoughts on our inhales and exhales, we are exercising our attention skills and also helping to reduce excess ‘fight or flight’ responses; both of which are important factors in brain injury recovery. A great way to start is with 1:2 ratio breathing: exhale for twice as long as you inhale (for example 5 second inhale and 10 second exhale.)

These seemingly simple tools are employable by anyone, and proven to work. Every concussion is different, and more in depth treatment may be needed: consult with a qualified medical professional about your particular case.

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Dr. Michael S. Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Neurofeedback Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the practice of advanced functional neurology. He is one of the most highly sought-after brain rehabilitation specialists because of the life-changing outcomes his patients consistently experience. After over a decade in private practice and working alongside other pioneers in the field, Dr. Trayford developed his multimodal intensive brain training and rehabilitation program built around the science of Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to learn and grow dependent upon the stimulation it receives from its environment. He later founded APEX Brain Centers to combine his ground-breaking rehabilitation approach with a unique patient and caretaker-centered care model. Under Dr. Trayford’s leadership, APEX Brain Centers has successfully treated thousands of patients and earned the reputation of a world-renowned brain training and rehabilitation practice. Since its inception, Dr. Trayford has been a leader of the Brain Training revolution treating patients worldwide. In addition, he is a published journal contributor and international lecturer. His experience with various patients of all ages and neurological conditions has given him a unique perspective on brain health and human performance. He is also well-versed in collaborating with other health care professionals, making him an invaluable asset to any care team. Dr. Trayford was awarded the Functional Neurologist of the Year distinction by the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, where he is a proud member and conference lecturer. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Dementia Society of America and the Board of Directors for the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research. He is also a servant leader who has dedicated his adult life to serving multiple communities through Rotary International and other notable causes. When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Trayford usually reads or researches anything related to the brain, human performance, and leadership. He also loves spending time outdoors with his wife Denise, their two daughters, and dogs in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaeltrayford/

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