Sleep and Its Importance For Healing Injuries

Sometimes when we are injured we forget to remember that the simple act of getting adequate sleep can be a huge contributor in helping us heal. The National Sleep Foundation’s sleep guidelines recommend 7-9 hours for the average adult with additional sleep and recovery time needed after injury and surgery.

Sleep is an active physiological process, one in which your body is busy carrying out vital activities while you are unconscious.  While asleep your body alternates between 2 forms of sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM.  While REM sleep provides the energy needed to restore the mind, non-REM sleep is essential for restoring the body.

During the restorative phase of non-REM deep sleep, the blood supply available to your muscles increases, delivering extra amounts of oxygen and nutrients to facilitate healing and growth.  Additionally, deep sleep allows for scar tissue to form which the body needs to create and repair injuries and allows our pituitary gland to release growth hormone that is essential for increased muscle mass, bone strength and energy.Physical Therapists can teach you how to position your body in the most effective way while sleeping to promote productive healing.  For instance, if you have a low back injury it is helpful to keep your spine in a neutral position by putting a pillow under your knees while you sleep on your back or between your knees if you sleep on your side. Proper positioning techniques for shoulder or neck pain can also be instrumental in sleep comfort.

How Can Physical Therapists Help With Sleep?

Physical Therapists provide education about the importance of aerobic exercise to aide with sleep as well as teach relaxation techniques.  Diaphragmatic breathing is one such technique which helps relieve physical muscle tension, allows the mental function to slow and relax, improves blood flow to muscle tissues and activates parasympathetic nervous system.

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Sleep Hygiene Tips:

    1. Go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day
    2. Sleep when sleepy
    3. If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes or more, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again
    4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed
    5. Develop a sleep ritual 15 minutes before bed each night to remind your body that it is time for sleep
    6. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
    7. Having a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime can be useful to , as it will raise your body temperature, causing you to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again
    8. Avoid taking naps
    9. Regular exercise is a good idea to help with good sleep, but try not to do strenuous exercise in the 4 hours before bedtime
    10.  Avoid clock-watching which can reinforce negative thoughts such as “Oh no, look how late it is”

Recommended Sleep Positioning
It is recommended that you either sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees to protect your back or on your sides with a pillow between your legs and arms.  A body pillow can be a very nice purchase for proper alignment.  Sleeping on your stomach can be very aggravating for your low back and neck as the extreme rotation and hyperextension can cause tissue imbalances.
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