A Good Night’s Sleep Could Be One of the Most Important Elements of Your Health & Healing

A Good Night’s Sleep Could Be One of the Most Important Elements of Your Health & Healing

June 30, 2021

To fully heal and regain mobility, you need QUALITY sleep. Physical therapy can help.

We help people heal from injuries every day. We monitor patterns and look for similarities in the people who have the best and worst results with physical therapy. One of the biggest variables that play a significant role in people’s ability to recover from injury, is whether or not they get high quality sleep. In this report I will be reviewing why sleep is so essential to health, I will share some reasons why people have trouble sleeping through the night or falling asleep and I will give tips on how to get high quality sleep.

People who don’t sleep enough have a lot of trouble healing from acute and chronic injury. I should mention that many times injuries go into the chronic stage due to the fact that the person is sleep deprived. I will share a personal experience in sleep deprivation. When I had my son I averaged 4 hours total interrupted sleep per day, including naps. Prior to this I was averaging 8-9 hours/night. So needless to say, my body was not happy. It is interesting to look back at that time now, much of it I just can’t recall. I had daily hallucinations, new and random phobias, daily headaches, body aches as well as generalized anxiety and depression. You could have called it postpartum depression, I decided to call it sleep deprivation. I’m only sharing this because I like to instill my deep and personal experience with sleep deprivation.


So Why Is Sleep So Critical To Health And Healing?

In recent studies, research has shown that losing sleep can disrupt the body’s pain signaling system and heighten a person’s sensitivity to pain. In one study on sleep deprived subjects, they showed a 24% decrease in musculoskeletal pain threshold.

According to the CDC, about 70 million Americans experience chronic sleep problems. Lack of sleep (or less than 7 hours) is associated with injuries, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, poor quality of life and well-being, increased healthcare costs, and lost work productivity. Sleep problems are a major contributor to a myriad of conditions, including obesity and depression. In fact, the CDC considers sleep health so crucial that lack of it is considered a public health problem.

Sleep activates the human body mechanic. Every system in the human body depends on sleep to make vital repairs. Getting the right amount of sleep activates healing potential and enhances tissue nutrition. Sleep helps your brain form new pathways to learn skills and remember information, thus causing less stress, which in turn keeps cortisol (stress hormone) at bay. It even helps you make better decisions and improves your problem-solving skills. Sleep sets the stage for improved mood and a positive outlook. Too much cortisol in the body can lower brain serotonin levels. Serotonin is a brain chemical that promotes relaxation and a positive mood (happiness).

What I try to explain to my patients is that our bodies undergo daily, repetitive trauma to our system through our immobility, our altered breathing quality, our movement compensations, alcohol, smoking, high sugar diets, exposure to radiation, even pollution and emotional stress. All these tiny stressors cause what’s called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a disturbance in the balance between the production of free radicals (unstable molecules, looking around for cells to bond to and cause damage in) and antioxidant defenses (good for recovery). The daily trauma as discussed causes free radical production in the cells, too many of these causes cellular damage. Cell damage is the beginning of any injury, from diabetes mellitus to cancer to arthritis. Sleep reverses the damage that the day has brought upon you. Not sleeping one or two nights won’t cause a huge problem, yet the accumulation of free radical production and cellular damage will eventually catch up with you, making you sick and tired.

To improve your quality of life, daily recovery- high quality sleep- is a critical piece of the puzzle as you age.


What Is The Solution To This Health Crisis?

As a way of improving general health I would treat this from both ends. Firstly, reduce the amount of “daily, repetitive trauma” as much as possible! That is another article for another time. Let me go into how we can improve our sleep today.

Getting good sleep is not only about what you do in the evening, it’s also about daytime habits. Step outside in the sunshine first thing in the morning to keep your circadian rhythms in sync with nature (lively in the day, waning as the sun sets, sleepy at night). Meditate in the morning, this has a positive impact on p.m. sleep- as does exercise. Daily exercise makes it easier to fall asleep at night.

If you don’t sleep well and miss out on deep sleep, the glymphatic system is not able to do its job. As a result, all this stuff builds up on the brain, leaving you feeling foggy and off. The glymphatic system works while you’re in a deep sleep to clean up toxin build up.


Factors That Contribute to Lack of Sleep:


  • Caffeine too late in the day- everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, if you are sensitive to caffeine, cut it off by 2 p.m., the latest.
  • Wine with dinner- Alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle, so even if you think it helps you wind down, it can wake you up in the night. Also wine and beer are high in carbs, which turn to sugar in the body.
  • Too much light- Light interferes with your body’s production of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone. Make your bedroom totally dark, and cover charging lights with black tape. When you get up to go to the bathroom, don’t turn on a bright light or check your phone
  • Overheated bedroom- You need a lower core body temperature for sleep. Being too warm could inhibit sleep hormones. A hot bath/shower an hour or so before bed actually lowers your core temperature, which is good. There are also cooling mattress toppers that might make a difference.
  • A bedtime snack- Late night eating wakes our digestive system and, if you consume carbs, can bring on a sugar rush. *Eating dinner too late, will have the same effect. Try to eat by 6/6:30.
  • Falling asleep in front of the TV- The blue light of the screen inhibits melatonin production. Same thing with reading on an iPad or laptop. That blue light is telling your body to stay awake. If you need the background noise, try a sleep machine.
  • Joint and muscle tension- physical pain can affect our ability to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. A gentle stretching or yoga routine before bedtime will do wonders for your sleep quality. Using massage balls or rollers on painful spots on your body will help relieve pain and tension.
  • Poor alignment- your neck and back need to be in a neutral position in order for your joints to “unload”. It is advisable to have a custom pillow that supports your neck, pillow props for a bad shoulder or hip and good firmness in the mattress so that your body doesn’t slip into poor alignment.
  • Impaired breathing- many adults struggle with impaired breathing during sleep due to obstructive sleep apnea. This would require a consultation with a sleep specialist or ENT.
  • Tight bed sheets- keeping your bed sheets tight and neat while you sleep does not allow for your legs to move freely when your body calls for that, this could create discomfort in the body.
  • Anxiety and over thinking- Many people lay down and it is the first time they have had a quiet moment and their minds start going. Thoughts just race around in your head, some of them negative, which causes anxiety, which in term raises your heart rate and blood pressure, making it difficult to fall asleep. This is why we recommend that you meditate in the morning (or at night), so that you have a chance to process your thoughts. You can also try writing before bed, so that your thoughts are on paper and you don’t need to worry about them. CBD is a very useful tool as well in reducing anxiety and calming the body.

My Best Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep (plus resources):


I hope this article has helped you in some way, ideally that you sleep better!!

Sweet dreams,

Dr. Shaden at Universus Physical Therapy

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