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By Sarah Nockengost, PT, DPT
It is no secret that a full night of quality sleep is important for the day ahead. However, did you know that sleep represents a critical period of recovery, and can have an effect on your perception of pain, cardiovascular health, and your ability to heal? If you are recovering from an injury or dealing with a chronic condition, this is important stuff! Yet, approximately one third of people in the U.S. suffer from sleep disturbances, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers inadequate sleep to be a public health concern.
Sleep plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of all bodily systems. Research correlates sufficient sleep with improved immune function and tissue healing processes, better natural pain control, a healthier cardiovascular system, reduced depression and anxiety, and enhanced ability to learn new skills. Consistent and sufficient sleep will help you prevent injury and improve your overall quality of life.
So what is a “good night’s sleep” and how do we get it? For adults 18 and older, the CDC recommends 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep quality is also important, which is why the high incidence of sleep disturbance in our country is considered a public health problem. Implementing certain practices and habits that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep is a great way to improve your sleep quality. This is called sleep hygiene, and it has been associated with improved sleep in even the most sleep-deprived people, like those suffering from chronic back pain or fibromyalgia.
Here are some helpful tips:
1. Set your natural biological clock by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day.
2. Use your bed only for sleep. Avoid eating, working, or watching TV in bed.
3. Stop using light-emitting electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The blue light from televisions, cell phones, and computers can suppress melatonin production.
4. Develop an unplugged and relaxing bedtime routine that helps you prepare to sleep.
5. Exercise regularly or stay physically active throughout the day. Avoid vigorous exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime, as this can stimulate your brain and body to keep you awake. See your doctor or talk to your physical therapist about an appropriate program if you are new to exercise.
6. Avoid caffeine, alcoholic beverages, or smoking at least 4 hours before bedtime.
7. Avoid daytime napping or limit nap time to 30 minutes.
8. Avoid large meals, spicy food, or excessive liquids 2-3 hours before bedtime.
9. Try using a wearable or mobile sleep-tracking device such as a FitBit or a smartphone app. Research is insufficient and inconclusive regarding the accuracy of these devices for tracking sleep, however they help increase awareness of the importance of sleep and may motivate consumers to implement healthy sleep hygiene.
10. Make your sleeping environment as comfortable as possible by adjusting temperature to your liking, using comfortable pillows and a supportive mattress, and finding a comfortable resting position for your body. If you are unable to find comfort at night due to pain, talk to your physical therapist about proper sleeping positions or ways to improve your ability to move in bed.
This list may seem overwhelming, however proper sleep hygiene may drastically alter your night-time routine. You may benefit from simple changes like reducing screen time before bed or sleeping with a pillow between your knees if you have a history of lower back pain. Take the time to examine your activity during the day and before bedtime, and make gradual changes that will eventually help you sleep like your life depends on it, because it actually does!
If an injury is impacting your sleep, the therapy staff at Sheltering Arms is made up of certified therapists with extensive experience working with patients in every stage of the rehabilitation process. To schedule an appointment, call 804-764-1000. To find a full list of our services, click here.