How We Lost America’s Dad: What to Know About Sleeping With a Head Injury

We have affiliate relationships where we are paid a commission on sales through some of our links. See our disclosures.

Comedian, actor, and television host, Bob Saget, passed away in early January of 2022. A favorite of Full House and Fuller House, many remember the 65-year-old actor as ‘America’s Dad,’ Danny Tanner, or the voice of an elder Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother.

Authorities later revealed the late actor was found unresponsive in his Florida hotel room, following a comedy show he’d performed earlier that evening. Saget’s case is an example of how, even if you feel fine after a fall, any trauma to the head should be taken seriously.

This month, the actor’s autopsy results were released, ruling Saget’s death as accidental as the result of blunt force trauma to the head, according to Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany of the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office. “It is most probable that the decedent suffered an unwitnessed fall backwards and struck the posterior aspect of his head,” Dr. Stephany wrote in his autopsy report.

Although the coroner determined head trauma to be Saget’s cause of death, the autopsy also found Saget had an enlarged heart, as well as traces of both anxiety and antidepressant medications. A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test was conducted and also found that Saget tested positive for COVID-19. It’s unclear whether any of those things had an impact on his death.  

In regards to Saget’s head injury, many experts agree that it’s likely the late actor was unconscious or at the least, quite disoriented or confused. Dr. Gavin Britz, the chair in neurosurgery at Houston Methodist, told the New York Times, “This is something I find with someone with a baseball bat to the head, or who has fallen from 20 or 30 feet,” agreeing with other neurosurgeons who find his injuries to be unusual for a typical fall. However, the autopsy found no evidence of foul play or drugs/alcohol to be involved.

Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, an emergency physician and concussion expert at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told the Times he doubted the actor was coherent or even conscious enough to think the injury was something he could “sleep off.”

While Saget had likely been unconscious due to his severe head injuries, the widespread mourning and remembrance of the beloved actor sheds some light on the seriousness of head trauma and going to sleep.

In the family’s latest statement, they say, “The authorities have determined that Bob passed from head trauma. They have concluded that he accidentally hit the back of his head on something, thought nothing of it, and went to sleep.” 

What to know about hitting your head

One big issue with blows to the head is that they can lead to concussions and traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a TBI can include headache, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or drowsiness, dizziness or loss of balance, and problems with speech. They can be caused by falling, being involved in a car accident, sports injuries, physical violence, and explosive blasts, which can occur for those in combat in the military.

With an adult who has a TBI or concussion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following red flag symptoms as emergency situations that need immediate medical attention:

  • Have a headache that gets worse and does not go away
  • Experience weakness, numbness, decreased coordination, convulsions, or seizures
  • Vomit repeatedly
  • Have slurred speech or unusual behavior
  • Have one pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other
  • Cannot recognize people or places, get confused, restless, or agitated
  • Lose consciousness, look very drowsy or cannot wake up

When it comes to children with a head injury:

  • The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences recommends checking on them a couple of times throughout the night to make sure they can be woken up.
  • Nemours Children’s Health urges that if any child falls asleep after a hit to the head and cannot be woken up, you should get emergency medical help right away.
  • The CDC recommends emergency medical attention for any of the adult danger signs listed above, as well as children who are inconsolable or won’t stop crying, and those who will not breastfeed or eat.

Is it safe to sleep after hitting your head?

In some cases, yes. The thinking used to be that someone who suffered a head injury and then fell asleep had a high chance of falling into a coma or dying. However, that’s not always the case. According to Healthline, you’re likely safe to get some shut-eye after hitting your head if you can carry on a conversation, can walk without help, and your pupils aren’t dilated. 

Moreover, Dr. Richard Figler, a primary care sports medicine physician of the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Center, said in a Cleveland Clinic health essentials Q&A that waking up a potential concussion victim is not always beneficial. He notes that waking up someone with a concussion can actually be counterproductive to their healing since rest is a crucial aspect. As an alternative, he recommends checking in on breathing patterns, which is something that can be done without waking a person up. If there is a serious problem, like irregular breathing, you should wake them up and seek immediate medical attention.

How a traumatic brain injury can impact your sleep 

While not getting enough sleep can make a TBI worse, a TBI can also create sleep issues. The Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City says that “having a TBI may cause a sleep problem for various reasons including direct trauma to the sleep areas in the brain, changes in melatonin, a brain hormone involved in regulating sleep, and other injury types.”

In any instance of a head injury, even if it appears to be minor, it’s best to consult a medical professional to be safe. For those who’ve experienced severe head injuries or serious symptoms, emergency medical attention is needed and you should call 9-1-1 immediately.

Carley Prendergast

Carley Prendergast

Carley is a former Staff Writer at Sleepopolis. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach who wrote news, sleep health content, and managed our newsletter.

Leave a Comment