There is a growing body of evidence regarding the importance of sleep for all aspects of health and sleep deprivation is now linked to most chronic conditions, including persistent pain and depression. Sleep has a strong link to improving how our bodies function – I am sure we have all noticed how we can feel groggy after a poor night`s sleep. Some of the best athletes have been very vocal about their sleep patterns and how they prioritise their sleep for recovery and performance, including Lebron James (who gets 12 hours sleep per night), Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Usain Bolt famously took a nap before he broke his first world record in Bejing 2008. However, despite all this evidence, many of us still get less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night.
What happens during sleep?
During sleep, we go through different stages of deep and light sleep in approximately five different 90-minute cycles for an adult, which equates to 7.5 hours (7.5 hours is an approximate recommendation, with adults needing between 7-9 hours). Each sleep stage has a different function involved in replenishing our body and brain from the day. Light sleep is the first stage which is called REM sleep. REM sleep is linked to learning and memory ability and also improves our emotional regulation. NREM sleep (deep sleep) has important functions for nervous system recuperation, including body healing and repair.
Studies have shown that improved sleep patterns (or getting above the recommended 7.5 hours) has been linked to improved immune system (Prather 2015), improved athletic ability (Mah 2011), improved mental health scores (Biggins 2019) and reduced injury risk (Milewski 2015).
Helpful Sleep Tips:
- Set up a good sleep routine (try to go to bed and rise at the same time)
- Limit screen time before bed (avoid the temptation to scroll on your phone for 1-2 hours before bed)
- Relaxing activities, such as reading, listening to soft music or going for a warm shower can be helpful to prepare our body to sleep
- Make sure your bedroom is a relaxing environment and a good temperature (not too warm)
- Avoid caffeine or stimulants later in the day
- Avoid alcohol late at night (this can make us sleepy but usually causes a disrupted sleep)
- Avoid heavy dinners before bed (again can make us sleepy, but usually disrupts our sleep)
- If you are having trouble sleeping – try not to worry, stay in a dim lit room and practice a relaxing activity such as meditation or listening to soft music (often if we begin “clock-watching” and become anxious which can send us further away from slumber)
- Napping can be helpful for a “boost” during the day, but try to keep naps short and not too close to bed-time (early afternoon is an optimal time)
- Exposure to light during the day and exercising earlier in the day have been linked to better sleep (but try to avoid vigorous exercise right before bed)
If you are interested in learning more about sleep, I would recommend reading the Matthew Walker book “Why We Sleep” or tuning into the podcast “Sleep Talk”.
With regards to physiotherapy, many of our chronic pain clients can have difficulties sleeping and we work with them to help enhance sleeping patterns and optimise their rest and recovery. Often when we decrease someone`s pain, this has a positive effect on their sleep.
- Biggins, M., Cahalan, R., Comyns, T., Purtill, H., & O’Sullivan, K. (2018). Poor sleep is related to lower general health, increased stress and increased confusion in elite Gaelic athletes. The Physician and sportsmedicine, 46(1), 14-20.
- Mah, C. D., Mah, K. E., Kezirian, E. J., & Dement, W. C. (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7), 943-950.
- Milewski, M. D., Skaggs, D. L., Bishop, G. A., Pace, J. L., Ibrahim, D. A., Wren, T. A., & Barzdukas, A. (2014). Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 34(2), 129-133.
- Prather, A. A., Janicki-Deverts, D., Hall, M. H., & Cohen, S. (2015). Behaviorally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. Sleep, 38(9), 1353-1359.