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Although it may seem that spending one third of our life in a state of unconsciousness is a waste of time, the fact remains that sleep is an essential aspect of human functioning. A lack of quality sleep leaves one unable to cope with physical, mental and emotional stress. This is why one of the most common questions that I ask my clients is “how is your sleep?” Sleep may seem to be beyond the scope of my job as a Physiotherapist; however if my clients aren’t getting adequate sleep I know that this is going to affect their overall recovery.

It has been shown that as you sleep your brain triggers the release of hormones that encourage tissue growth. The release of growth hormone and the production of muscle proteins help tissue to adapt and repair every night as we sleep(1). This process is needed in order to help the recovery of existing injuries, as well as to ensure that healthy tissues can heal adequately from the daily microtraumas done to them so that those small traumas don’t accumulate and eventually turn into injured tissue. One study looked at teenage athletes who got less than 8 hours of sleep per night and found that they increased their injury risk by 1.7x compared to those who got more than 8 hours sleep per night (2). As Physiotherapists, this is critical information as it shows that sleep not only helps with injury healing; but it can also prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. Furthermore, there is evidence of a high correlation between poor sleep and acute pain, as well as chronic pain. It is believed that sleep plays a direct role in pain processing that occurs in the brain. A study done with burn victims found that the quality of sleep was a key predictor of pain severity the following day (3). It appears as though sleep disturbance, either from pain or other factors, facilitates pain interpretation. Pain is one of the main reasons that my clients come to Physiotherapy; therefore, if sleep affects pain processing it is something that needs to be looked at.

To help keep you injury free or help reduce the intensity of your pain here are a few sleep hygiene tips to help you get a full, restful night of sleep (4):

Ideal Sleeping Position For Optimal Spinal Alignment:
Lay on your back with one pillow under your head and one or two under your knees. Your pillow should be supportive under the natural curve of your neck, while the pillows under your knees should help your low back stay in a neutral position, lying flat against the mattress.

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Get Bright Light Exposure During The Day:

Sufficient daytime sun exposure helps properly align the body’s circadian rhythms. Melatonin is produced based on the contrast between bright light exposure and darkness. If you are in the dark all day, your body doesn’t produce the melatonin needed to help fall asleep. The best advice to follow in order to get your body’s internal clock to reset itself would be to get at least 10 minutes of light first thing after waking up in the morning. If this is not possible (for example, you wake up before sunrise), you can purchase a special device that emits blue light and helps reboot your awake-asleep cycle.

Avoid Blue Light At Night:
Similarly to the above point, if you are trying to expose your body to blue light in the morning, you want to avoid it at night. Melatonin, which makes you sleepy, starts being produced by the brain at night; however its production is disrupted by exposure to blue light. Blue light consists of artificial light and light emitted by your TV, computers and phones. After sunset, it is advised to limit the usage of these devices so that melatonin production is not affected. If you can’t limit screen time one to two hours before bed, a solution would be to purchase amber colored glasses which have the ability to block blue light. This also means that you want to have your room as dark as possible when you are trying to go to sleep. Blackout curtains or eye masks can help prevent any light exposure that may interfere with melatonin production.

Avoid Alcohol & Caffeine:
Avoid coffee and caffeinated teas as their effects can last up to seven hours after ingestion. Alcohol often lets you fall asleep quickly but the sleep afterwards is more broken up and less restorative.

Follow A Sleep Routine:
Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each night/day. By doing the same thing before bed and at the same time each night the body begins to learn that it is sleep time. For some people reading a book signals bedtime, for others it’s listening to music or a relaxation video. Try not to work, talk on the phone or study in your bed – when you are in bed it should mean that it is time to sleep. Eventually your body will adapt to these routines and you will be able to fall asleep more quickly.

Take A Warm Shower Or Bath:
Take a hot shower or bath just under two hours before bedtime. This causes your body temperature to rise and the drop in core temperature after you exit the warm water helps promote sleep.

If you find your sleep remains disrupted even after following these tips, don’t suffer through more sleepless nights – seek help. If your sleep is largely affected due to spinal or muscle pain, see a Physiotherapist. We can help you recover from the injury through a combination of hands on treatment and exercise prescription. We also provide education regarding proper sleeping positions and pillow/mattress fittings. If your sleep is affected by things other than pain, then it may benefit you to see a sleep specialist. Catching those “zzzzzs” will go a long way in helping prevent future injury and in assisting in a speedy recovery from those existing aches and pains. Happy snoozing!

If you have any questions, concerns or want to book an appointment,

do not hesitate to contact Grace at Nose Creek Sport Physiotherapy at 403.275.7728 or gkary@calgaryphysicaltherapy.com

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  1. Fullagar HH, Duffield R, Skorski S, Coutts AJ, Julian R, Meyer T. Sleep and Recovery in Team Sport: Current Sleep-Related Issues Facing Professional Team-Sport Athletes. International journal of sports physiology and performance. 2015 Nov;10(8):950-7. PubMed PMID: 25756787. Epub 2015/03/11. eng.
  2. Milewski MD, Skaggs DL, Bishop GA, Pace JL, Ibrahim DA, Wren TA, et al. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of pediatric orthopedics. 2014 Mar;34(2):129-33. PubMed PMID: 25028798. Epub 2014/07/17. Eng
  3. Raymond I, Nielsen TA, Lavigne G, Manzini C, Choiniere M. Quality of sleep and its daily relationship to pain intensity in hospitalized adult burn patients. Pain 2001;92:3818.
  4. Mercola: Take Control of Your Health. (May 5, 2016). How Blocking Blue Light at Night Can Help Transform Your Sleep. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/05/05/blocking-bluelight.aspx?utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20160505Z1&et_cid=DM104628&et_rid=1471378562 on September 5, 2017.
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