Importance of Sleep in Recovery and Tips on How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene.

We have all heard about the positive effects of a “good night’s sleep” and how much better we feel overall the next day after catching some solid Zzzzzzzz’s. But in today’s day in age, more people than not tend to live by the “I’ll sleep when I die” concept – staying up later and getting up earlier in order to meet those deadlines or just to have a fun night out. However, if you aren’t making sleep a priority in your routine, you’re putting yourself at risk for more than you realize.

Sleep is an important element of mental and physical restoration. Persistent sleep deprivation, even 6 hours or less of poor sleep quality, overtime can lead to a multitude of diseases, defective health responses as well as increased risk of injury. These include, but are not limited to, Musculoskeletal injury, decreased immune health, decreased Cardiac health, obesity and impaired insulin management, decreased cognitive and memory performance, mood changes and higher risk of MVA and/or workplace accidents. 

Sleep is broken down into 5 stages made up of 2 main components, REM (rapid eye movement) and Non-REM (deep sleep / slow wave) sleep. Both are essential for full physical and mental restoration. REM sleep is important in providing energy to the brain and restoring the mind, cognition, and memory. This is also when we tend to dream.

Non-REM sleep is vital for muscle recovery and restoring the body physically. During Non-REM sleep the other systems in our body are targeted, including: 

Cardiac Health

Because we are breathing deeper and slower, we are providing increased blood flow to the muscles and organs, thus improving our blood pressure and Cardiac health.

Hormone Regulation

Production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – this hormone promotes health, recovery, and growth, as well as contributes to building lean body mass.

Production of Prolactin – this hormone regulates inflammation in the body. 

If theses hormones are not properly managed and produced, you are putting yourself at higher risk of injuring yourself physically during training, as well as decreasing your ability recover after a strenuous workout.

Insulin Management 

When deprived of sleep, the body’s response to stress and nutrition changes, therefore impairing glucose metabolism. This results in decreased effectiveness of ingested nutrients as well as increases the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. This also results in increased amount of ghrelin (the hormone that makes you hungry) and decreased release of Leptin (the hormone that signals that you’re full). Hence why we tend to get those cravings for sweets, carbs and processed foods after a night of little / poor sleep. If repeated overtime, this will increase your risk of obesity and developing Type II Diabetes.

With all of that being said, it’s important to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night. However, one should not expect to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. You need time to unwind and prepare for sleep. We all tend to have some type of morning routine we follow after first waking up to start off our days. So why not make it priority to have a daily sleep routine?  Here are some tips for good sleep hygiene.

1)  Consistent sleep cycle- Aim to go to bed or be in bed around the same time every day as well as waking up around the same time.

2)  Set up your environment for sleep- Try to dim your lights, close the shades, lower the noise levels and turn off/stay away from electronic devices at least 1-2 hours before bed. Blue light blocking glasses are also a great tool to wear if you still want to read that article on your phone or watch a Netflix episode or two before bed. These glasses help to trick your mind into thinking that it is dark outside and to prepare for sleep. However, if you’re going to watch a show, or read an article, keep it lighthearted to avoid increased stress or anxiousness when trying to fall asleep.

3) Have a cool comfy environment- Studies have shown that the best temperature is between 60 – 67 degrees F for a good quality night of sleep. 

4) Take a hot bath or shower before bed

5) Drink warm relaxing tea, such as chamomile and lavender 

6) Essential oils/pillow sprays are also great to set the slumber mood, especially lavender, chamomile and rose

7) Avoid eating too heavy of a meal 2-3 hours before bed- This will result in your body and metabolism to work harder to break down and digest your food instead of focusing on your blood flow to your muscles and brain.

8) Avoid/limit caffeine 6-7 hours prior of sleep- Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours, so it will take at least that long to reduce the stimulation effects. 

9) Avoid/limit alcohol consumption 3-5 hours prior to bed- Alcohol suppresses deep sleep, produces sleep fragmentation, and relaxes the upper airway muscles, which worsens snoring and severity of obstructive sleep apnea. Alcohol is quickly metabolized, and will produce an acetaldehyde rebound effect that will greatly increase your chances of waking up during the night, depriving you of REM sleep.

10) Napping responsibly during the day- A good nap of 20 minutes or less has shown to boost cognitive and creative performance as well as physical restoration. So it is often encouraged for athletes to take a cat nap after a strenuous workout. Anything greater than 20-30 minutes will alter your circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep that night. 

11) Exercise!!! Earlier the better- Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it’s done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you’re trying to fall asleep. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or workout earlier in the day. OMPT Specialists can help you with a simple workout program that is safe and simple to follow.

In all, sleep has a bigger role in recovery and overall functioning than most people realize, hence why it is so important to try to form good sleep habits and practice them daily. Ask your physical therapist if you have any questions related to your sleep or exercise, or call for a FREE Consultation!

By KC Brunell, DPT, OMPT

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