Despite the motivational claims of our Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, sleep plays an integral part in the success of rehabilitation. Science backs the importance of sleep for everyday individuals. Other than the household numbers of 7-9 hours of sleep recommended, generally we don’t know much about sleep. This is a multi-part series covering sleep.
Lack of Sleep and Your Rehab
We’ve all been in that situation... a bad night of sleep or staying up later than we should with an early rise time the following day. However we experience it, sometimes we are not aware how much it affects us the following day. Sleep can have a huge effect on our body’s road to recovery, thus sleep is an essential part of the rehab process.
What happens when you don’t sleep well? According to some of the literature1, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to multiple problems within our bodies including:
Increased muscle tone and decrease in postural maintenance
Decreased oxygen uptake
Increased sensitivity to pain and sensation of numbness
Decreased alertness and cognitive processes
Increased appetite, hunger, and risk of weight gain
Decreased immune system function.
Decreased emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationship communication
Increased perception of anxiety and depression
Decreased memory retention
Experts juggle with the idea of intermittent pain causing disturbed sleep and vis versa in a chicken-or-egg-type of discussion. Though it may seem intuitive that pain would wake you up at night, they found that the opposite is also very possible where lack of sleep can continue the cyclical nature of your pain.
An article published in 2016 about sleep deprivation after surgical procedures, nearly 50% of patients reported that pain was the main factor to their sleep disturbances with environmental factors at a distant second of 23%.
If you can help yourself get a better night of rest, you’ll provide a better environment to heal. The body heals best when it’s in balance. As stated above, sleep deprivation affects nearly all of the systems in your body.
As a metaphor, imagine that your body has a certain percentage of energy and effort allocated to each system in your body, each system intertwining with each other. If other systems are demanding more percentage, only so much can go towards your rehabilitation. With a less than optimal immune system, cardiovascular system, emotion and cognitive network at play, your body is nowhere near its optimum and is pulled in directions away from the goal of getting you better
Sleep and Physical Therapy
What does physical therapy have to do with it? One of the many things that could help you get a better nights rest is with exercise. It is difficult to really get a good workout in, let alone move, when you’re experiencing pain from general musculoskeletal conditions.
That’s where your physical therapist can step in to provide strategies and a program to perform exercises daily to encourage activity and help you navigate safe and less threatening movements.
Briefly explaining how pain works, your body is designed to use pain as a protector. The internal alarm system is always on the watch for your well being. Whenever your body is threatened, all of the signals sent from you muscles, ligaments, and tendons can be interpreted as pain.
Intuitively, you naturally try to rest, do nothing, and let the body do it’s magic. But in reality most movements aren’t damaging. Physical therapists are in a great position to address you as a whole person and help decrease the sensitivity of your alarm system. We can help you set your goal posts to what is safe. This will keep the the affected area and the rest of your body in good shape as your body naturally heals itself. Using strategies to get you moving safely, we are able to help you give yourself permission to relax and as a whole create the best healing and sleeping environment.
To learn more about the author
1. Orzeł-Gryglewska, J. (2010). Consequences of sleep deprivation. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 23(1).
2. Dolan, R., Huh, J., Tiwari, N., Sproat, T. and Camilleri-Brennan, J. (2016). A prospective analysis of sleep deprivation and disturbance in surgical patients. Annals of Medicine and Surgery, 6, pp.1-
3. Finan, P., Goodin, B. and Smith, M. (2013). The Association of Sleep and Pain: An Update and a Path Forward. The Journal of Pain, 14(12), pp.1539-1552.
4. Uchida S, Shioda K, Morita Y, Kubota C, Ganeko M, Takeda N. Exercise Effects on Sleep Physiology. Frontiers in Neurology. 2012;3. doi:10.3389/fneur.2012.00048.
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