Many patients often ask what they can do to get over an injury as quickly as possible. As health care professionals we often give out exercises, talk about posture and using heat or cold therapy. Advice on how much activity is often addressed and manual treatments and machines to use at home can all be in the treatment programme. Nutrition is another keen subject – making sure that all the right ‘ingredients’ are there for the body to use to heal any broken structures.
One area that is often missed though is the power of sleep. It isn’t something which strikes us as a key process to getting us better but it plays a more powerful role than we think.
Sleep is important for us; feeling tired and having a ‘heavy’ head after a late night are not conducive to a great day. Sleep is important to allow the little cells of our body time to repair themselves from the day’s activities. It also gives us the opportunity to refuel. Sleep is our bodies’ way having the time to recharge the batteries. This is why when we get tired our brain tells us to rest so the recharging can begin.
Another important process which occurs during sleep is our dreams. It is thought that the process of dreaming is our brain doing a little tidying up and looking through all the things we learnt during the day and maybe getting rid of memories or information which is no longer needed. The brain replays events which happened during the day and forms the memories of what we want or need to keep.
There are also some chemicals which are produced when we sleep which stimulate the body to repair any tissue which has been damaged. These chemicals are super important to turbo charge the repair process. So a lack of or inadequate sleep can impair the amount produced which in turn slows down your healing rates.
What is interesting to note is how our sleep patterns have changed over the course of the years with the progress of technology. Since the invention of the light bulb we tend to sleep one a half hours less than before, and since the advent of the internet this has reduced a further 30 minutes on average per night.
So that gives us on average two hours less time per night to recover the body, refuel and repair any damage to our bodies. Even worse recent backlit technology such as smart phones and tablet devices emitting their light appears to have the effect of tricky the brain into thinking it’s not as late as it and stimulates more brain activity. This makes it harder to then get to sleep.
For those who need to get their brain to wind down before bed and currently use a tablet or similar device try reading a book instead.
To maximise your recovery, make sure that you are getting your average 7-9 hours of sleep every night, get to bed early and put that tablet down. As well as bouncing out of bed in the mornings you might be bouncing back from injury quicker too.
Robert Grainger MSc MCSP MHPC CSCS
Practice Principle PhysioFixx Physiotherapy Clinic