You’ve probably heard how sleep is important for injury recovery. Beyond prescribed rehab exercises, feel-good movements, and gradual return to activity, people often fail to consider the importance of sleep as part of the recovery process.

From active individuals to professional athletes, sleep plays a crucial role in injury recovery. Whether you’re dealing with a muscle strain, damaged tendon or bone injury, sleep is key to getting your body back in top form.

The Science Behind it:

Blood flow: as you fall into the deeper stages of sleep, there is an increase in blood flow to your muscles which brings oxygen and nutrients to help regenerate cells, and repair muscles.

Hormones: when the body enters its deep sleep stage known as non-REM sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormones that stimulate muscle repair and growth. When the body doesn’t get enough rest, the secretion of this growth hormone declines, and it can become harder for your body to recover from injuries. The hormone prolactin, which helps regulate inflammation, is also released while sleeping. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to experience inflammation in the body, which can make injury recovery more difficult while also putting you at risk of further injury.

Despite it being accessible to everyone, and carrying zero monetary cost, why do so many of us miss out on this health essential called sleep? The answer is as often as simple as this: we just don’t prioritize it. Much like many other areas of health and well-being, there isn’t a fancy or expensive solution for improving sleep; it just comes down to forming a good routine, and sticking to it. So, what can we do to maximize a good night’s sleep, and pin down this habit? Here are some helpful tips:

 

  1. Create a Bedtime Routine

For anyone who has kids or has lived in a house with babies or children, you will know the importance of adopting a consistent bed time routine. From a regular dinner time, to bath time, reading before sleep, then lights out, we go through a huge amount of effort to get little ones into a consistent pattern so they (and their bodies) know what to expect in the evening, which helps them settle into a regular rhythm. Is it such a big surprise then, that creating a night time routine for ourselves as adults is just as excellent of an idea?

  1. Turn Your Bedroom Into a Cave

The optimum environment for sleep is a room that is completely dark and relatively cool. Many of us will think our room is totally dark at bedtime, but you might be surprised at how much excess light you have coming in after the lights are switched off. Do you keep your cell phone in your room? Maybe you have a wireless router, a TV, or charging port? Many of these electronic devices have small, seemingly insignificant LED lights that have actually been shown to disturb sleep quite significantly. So: remove as many electronic devices from your room as possible. For those that you are unable to or don’t want to remove, see if you can switch them off completely so those sneaky standby lights go out, or cover them up with a little ball of blue tack or piece of electrical tape.

Is there a streetlight outside your window? If you can answer yes to this, chances are it has disturbed your sleep at some point. Consider investing in some blackout curtains/blinds for your windows. Alternatively – try using a sleep mask. These aren’t for everyone, but there are all sorts of types out there, so you never know, if you can find one that is comfortable for you, it could change your sleep forever.

  1. Watch Your Liquid Intake

There are two sides to this tip, the first being caffeine. Many of us respond differently to caffeine, from the one-cup-a-day ultra-caffeine-sensitive souls, to the ‘I can drink an espresso before bed’ claimers – but even if you fall into the latter camp, it’s worth noting that caffeine can have a half-life of up to 6 hours (the time taken for half of the caffeine to be metabolised by your body). So in real time: that double shot espresso you have to get you through the afternoon slump at 4pm could have just as much of an impact as taking a single shot espresso at 10pm as you hit the pillow.

Part 2 of this tip might seem really obvious, but if your sleep is often disturbed by the need to go to the bathroom, it’s worth trying to reduce your intake of all liquids a couple of hours before bed time. If you find you’re then left feeling dehydrated, perhaps set yourself alarms earlier in the day as little reminders to increase your water levels, with a view of getting in the habit of hydrating throughout the day.

  1. Cut Down Screen Time and Blue Light

Until artificial light was invented, the sun was our only source of light, and night times would be a time of darkness. Now that artificial light is everywhere around us, simply put – our bodies find it harder to identify when we should and shouldn’t be awake. So what can we do about it?

Understanding Blue Light

Not all colours of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths are beneficial during daytime hours because they can aid in boosting attention, reaction times and mood – but for these exact reasons, can be disruptive when we’re trying to sleep.

Enough blue light at the right time of day helps to keep our circadian rhythms (our internal body clock) in sync, so it’s important to get outside during the daytime to help keep ourselves in check. However, being exposed to light – blue light especially – suppresses the release of melatonin (the ‘sleepy’ hormone), so it’s a wise idea to try and limit our exposure when we are winding down for the evening.

Screen Time

Device screens are the biggest culprit when looking at unwanted blue light offenders. Trying to reduce or eliminate screen time a few hours before bed will help combat your exposure. Not to mention, taking your brain away from the hundreds of thought-provoking, over-stimulating posts and attention-grabbing videos that send you down a rabbit-hole can only be a good thing as you look to clear your mind before bed.

If you work night shifts, or find it difficult to avoid using screens late in the evening, consider trying blue light blocking glasses. Alternatively, try switching your phone or tablet to “night mode” or, if your phone doesn’t have this feature, try installing an app that filters out the blue wavelength light at night, such as Bluelight Filter, Twilight or Night Owl.

Bed Time Reading

If you read before bed (i.e., have the lights on for a little while before you go to sleep) consider getting yourself a coloured bulb that is further down the red end of the light spectrum. If you don’t fancy that dimmer warmer hue at all time, you can even buy smart bulbs (around $20) which can be controlled from your phone to change colour as you desire – so you can pop on a dim red light to help you wind down, but switch back to bright white when you’re trying to find a matching pair of socks in the morning!

To Conclude…

See what works for you! You might notice a significant difference adopting one of these suggestions, and might notice no change for another, so be sure to observe what works well for you. If you use a fitness or sleep tracker, you might even be able to log when you have tried something, so you can easily look for changes and patterns in your sleep.

Consistency, consistency, consistency 

If you want to upgrade your athleticism, decrease your risk of injury, decrease persistent pain, recover faster, boost your immune system, have more energy and perform better, sleep is critical. So when you find a bedtime routine that works for you: be consistent. And on days where you can’t be, relax. Getting stressed and worked up about having a bad night’s sleep certainly won’t make you feel any MORE rested, so take a deep breath, let it go, and do your best to set yourself up for a better night’s sleep the next day.

 

By Priscilla Bulandres
Registered Physiotherapist
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2021-11-26T10:49:01-05:00

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