Why You Won’t Heal – Part 5

Poor Sleep Quality

The ability of the human body to heal and recover is nothing short of amazing.  The body has an innate way of healing despite our actions.  However, it’s important to realize that what we do and how we treat an injury or illness can significantly affect how well the body is able to heal and recover from it.  In Part 5 of the series, Why You Won’t Heal, I address how poor sleep quality can negatively impact how one heals from an injury or illness.

Although I am not a sleep expert, I have regular discussions with my physical therapy clients regarding sleep quality and hygiene.  Adequate sleep is one of the most important components to a person’s recovery post illness and injury.  On average, a person requires between 7-9 hours of sleep.

Although there are different stages of sleep cycles, a typical sleep cycle lasts between 70-120 minutes.  The actual amount of sleep needed will vary and is dependent on how long your particular cycles are.

It’s interesting to note that if you wake up just as you are coming out of a sleep cycle that you will typically feel more rested and alert.  On the other hand, if you wake at the start or halfway through a cycle, you will probably wake up feeling tired and grumpy (hence the term “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”).  We should probably term this “waking up on the wrong half of the sleep cycle” instead.

Throughout your recovery and rehabilitation, try to sleep and rest more than you typically would.  This shouldn’t be confused with bed rest though.  As a physical therapist, I rarely encourage bed rest, but at times, bed rest can be medically necessary.

Activity and frequent movement is extremely important during your recovery as is getting adequate rest and sleep.  Many important body processes occur while you sleep.  One of the most important aspects of sleep is how it affects your hormonal regulation.  Hormones, such as human growth hormone (HGH), play a critical role in how you will recover from injury.  Adequate rest and sleep is necessary for HGH and other critical hormone systems to be at the optimal level.

Poor sleep or inadequate amounts of sleep not only affect the healing response, but are also a risk factor for many chronic diseases and illnesses including:

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Dementia

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality

If your recovery and rehabilitation is starting to slow down or just not progressing like you would expect, taking a look at your sleep quality is an important next step.  In order to insure quality sleep, be proactive about the environment you sleep in and how you prepare to sleep.  This is known as your sleep hygiene.  The following tips can help you to get a better night of rest:

  • Avoid caffeine later in the day.
  • Black out your room.  Darkness sends important hormonal signals to the brain to prepare for sleep.  Even small amounts of light can disrupt sleep patterns, so cover up any potential sources of lights (even those that may be present on smoke detectors or electronic equipment).
  • Avoid any use of electronic equipment for at least two hours before bed as the light (in particular, the blue light) emitted by the screen is very stimulatory to your system.
  • Avoid watching television for at least two hours prior to bed as the light emitted by the screen is also stimulatory.
  • Establish a rule of no electronic equipment in your bedroom.  Many of us feel as though we must have our TV or tablet, but your sleep quality will improve without it.
  • Do not read or watch anything (like the evening news) that would be stimulating or anxiety producing prior to bed.
  • Try supplementing with magnesium prior to bed.  Most people are deficient in the amount of magnesium they consume on a regular basis.  Magnesium can help reduce muscle soreness and improve your quality of sleep.  I recommend beginning with a dose of 200 mg (before bedtime) and increasing the dose in 100 mg intervals as needed.  I would caution you that taking too much magnesium can lead to diarrhea.  Mag Glycinate in its oral form is the most highly absorbable.  Although not as absorbable, Thorne Research Magnesium Citrate can also be beneficial.
  • Get on a schedule.  Your body thrives on a routine, so preparing for bed shouldn’t be any different than your other daily routines.  Try to go to bed at the same time each day.  In order to increase your time sleeping, go to bed a little earlier (like 5-10 minutes) each day versus sleeping in longer in the morning.  Try to gain extra rest at the beginning, not the end, of the sleep cycles.
  • Keep your room cooler.  If your room temperature is too hot, you are likely not to sleep well.  Usually cooler is better than warmer, but not cold.
  • Get regular exercise.  Regular exercise can help to keep you on a good sleep schedule.  Just don’t exercise right before bed.  When recovering from an injury, the type of exercise may vary and is dependent on your specific injury.

An adequate amount of sleep shouldn’t be considered a luxury, but instead as a critical component to proper healing and recovery.  An adequate amount of quality sleep is one of the most critical factors when you’re trying to recover from injury and illness.  It’s also a critical component to avoiding overtraining syndrome.  Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep in your recovery!

Which tip can you implement in order to get a better night of rest?  Do you have any tips to share?  Please leave your comments below.

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