The Importance of Sleep During Injury Recovery


From an early age, children are told by their parents to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. But, why is this? Why do humans need to sleep? And why does sleep seem even more important when you’re sick or injured? In this article, these basic questions about sleep will be answered and we’ll discuss tips to ensure a better night’s sleep.

Sleep is a vital part of human life. Why? Sleep is the only part of the day when a body can heal itself both physically and mentally. Many different chemical and physiological reactions occur while sleeping, but some of the most important are the balancing of the hormones related to tissue growth, stress control, and appetite and weight management.

During waking hours, hormones are released constantly to address the needs of the body’s current situation. As the day goes on, and energy is being depleted in the body, these hormones start to get out of balance, leading to some negative consequences. When people eventually go to sleep at night, their bodies get a chance to balance out these hormones again. Some of the main hormones — in terms of injury recovery and prevention — that need to be balanced are Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Cortisol, Ghrelin, and Leptin.

HGH

HGH is the hormone that builds and repairs many tissues in the body. After an injury, the damaged tissues need extra time and sufficient levels of HGH in order to repair and heal themselves. When a person does not get the right amount of sleep, they do not reach the proper HGH levels to adequately repair damaged tissues, thus prolonging the healing time.

Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that is directly related to stress levels. The more cortisol present in the body, the higher the level of stress that is being placed on the body. Cortisol has many effects on the body, with consistently high levels linked to weight gain, decreased energy levels, anxiety and depression, and increased blood pressure. When proper sleep occurs, cortisol levels decrease. This allows our bodies to properly manage weight, increase energy levels for the next day, keep blood pressure at healthy levels, and have more positive moods. For individuals going through the recovery process after an injury, these are important factors in ensuring the best recovery outcomes.

Leptin and Ghrelin

Leptin is the hormone that tells the body it has had enough food and Ghrelin is the opposite, telling the body that it is hungry. When people get insufficient sleep, Leptin levels are decreased and Ghrelin levels are increased. This causes a person to have an increased appetite, leading them to eat more, which leads to increased weight gain. Weight gain can add increased pressure on weight-bearing joints, making the healing of ankles, knees, hips, and the lower back even harder. Increased weight gain can also cause many other negative effects on the systems of the body.

During times of injury recovery, people already have a difficult time maintaining an ideal weight due to limited activity from their injury. By adding poor sleep habits, weight gain becomes even harder to control.

Ideal Sleeping Hours + Tips for a Good Night’s Rest

So how many hours of sleep should you be getting at night? Each individual is a little different, but a good rule of thumb is 7-10 hours for teens and 7-9 hours for adults to ensure proper time for body healing. It is also important to make these consecutive hours with no interruptions in sleep.

Below are more tips on how to ensure a full night’s sleep.

  1. Avoid exercise right before sleep due to increased Cortisol levels with exercise.
  2. Avoid blue lights from screens such as TVs, cell phones, and tablets.
  3. Avoid eating directly before bed.
  4. Avoid caffeine or other stimulants 4-6 hours before sleep.
  5. Turn off TVs, cell phones, and any other devices that could wake you during sleep.
  6. When sleeping on your back, place a pillow under the knees to take the pressure off your low back.
  7. When sleeping on your side, place a pillow between knees to keep the hips level and hug a pillow to the chest to keep shoulders properly aligned.
  8. Sleep with one pillow under your head to prevent neck injury.
  9. Use pain management methods before bed, such as heat, ice, stretches, breathing techniques, or prescribed pain meds to limit pain while sleeping.
  10. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to maintain a consistent sleep routine.

If you’re concerned that an injury or pain is impacting the quality of your sleep, schedule a free injury assessment with a physical therapist. Methods such as different pain-relieving modalities, soft tissue mobilization, bracing and splinting, taping, and pharmaceutical options may offer you improvements in sleep and aid in your efforts to get through your injury recovery period.