The Role Sleep Plays in Sports Injury Recovery
Parents often tell their children to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. Of course, children are aware their parents are not going to bed as well and may try to fight against this. What they don’t know yet is that sleep is important.
Even as adults, however, we don’t always fully understand the extent of this importance. After all, why do humans need to sleep? What really happens to our bodies at night? And why is sleep even more important when you are recovering from injury?
Today, we want to answer these common questions about sleep and look at how they relate to injury recovery (and prevention). Additionally, we want to give you some tips to help you get a better night’s sleep for your optimal health.
Sleep Cycles and Physical Restoration
It is no big secret that sleep is an essential part of human life. Most people don’t understand exactly why this is the case, however. To put it simply, this is the only part of the day wherein our bodies can heal themselves – both physically and mentally.
Sleep is an active physiological process, one in which your body is busy carrying out vital activities, while you are unconscious. While asleep your body alternates between two forms of sleep: rapid eye movement, or REM, and non-REM sleep. This cycle repeats several times throughout the night.
While REM sleep provides the energy to the brain that supports it during waking hours and is necessary for restoring the mind, stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep, known as slow-wave or deep sleep, are essential for restoring the body. Even their names—slow-wave versus rapid eye movement—are indicative of their different healing natures.
When you are in the physically restorative phases of deep sleep, your blood pressure drops and your breathing becomes deeper and slower. Your brain rests with very little activity, so the available blood supply to your muscles increases. This increased blood supply delivers extra amounts of oxygen and nutrients to facilitate muscular and tissue healing and growth.
Hormones Released and Regulated During Sleep
There are many different physiological and chemical reactions that occur during the respective sleep stages. Of these, some of the most important are the balancing of hormones that play a role in stress control, appetite and weight management, and tissue growth and rejuvenation.
During our waking hours, the hormones in our bodies are constantly released to address the needs of whatever happens to be our current situation. As the day progresses, energy is being depleted and our bodies’ hormones can start to become imbalanced. This is concerning because it can lead to negative consequences.
Our bodies ultimately have the opportunity to balance out our respective hormone levels when we eventually go to sleep at night. A couple of the main hormones needing to be balanced—for both injury recovery and prevention—include Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Cortisol, Ghrelin, and Leptin.
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 is a hormone directly related to stress levels. The more cortisol present in the body, the higher the level of stress being placed on the body. Cortisol has many negative physical effects, with consistently high levels linked to weight gain, decreased energy levels, anxiety and depression, and increased blood pressure.
With a proper night’s sleep, cortisol levels are able to decrease. In turn, 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 who are going through the recovery process following an injury, these are all important factors in ensuring the best possible recovery outcomes.
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 tend to already have difficulty in maintaining an ideal weight (due to limited activity from their injury). By adding poor sleep habits, weight gain becomes even harder to control. Not only does this negatively affect healing for existing injuries – it can contribute to additional foot and ankle issues!
Ideal Sleeping Hours and Tips for a Good Night’s Rest
People often want to know – “Exactly how many hours of sleep should of sleep should I be getting at night?” The fact of the matter is that everyone is a little different in this regard, but a good general rule is that teens should get between 7-10 hours of sleep and adults 7-9 hours. These particular time ranges are ideal for ensuring proper physical healing. At the same time, it is worth noting that these ranges are for consecutive hours (with no interruptions in sleep).
Your muscles will require additional sleep and recovery time following illness, injury, or surgery. This means if you are rehabbing an injury or are in postoperative physical therapy, you should consider that your body needs an extra amount of sleep to heal. In addition, muscular recovery is required after intense exercise, particularly strength and endurance training, in which the muscles have been torn down to some degree.
Below we have some tips on how to ensure a full night’s sleep.
- Avoid exercise right before sleep due to increased Cortisol levels with exercise.
- Avoid blue lights from screens such as TVs, cell phones, and tablets.
- Avoid eating directly before bed.
- Avoid caffeine or other stimulants 4-6 hours before sleep.
- Turn off TVs, cell phones, and any other devices that could wake you during sleep.
- When sleeping on your back, place pillow under knees to take pressure off your low back.
- When sleeping on your side, place a pillow between knees to keep hips level and hug a pillow to the chest to keep shoulders properly aligned.
- Sleep with one pillow under your head to prevent neck injury.
- Use pain management methods before bed, such as heat, ice, stretches, breathing techniques, or prescribed pain meds to limit pain while sleeping.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to maintain a consistent sleep routine.
Whereas sleep clearly plays a major role in recovering from sports injuries—and even just the grind of daily life—your body may require additional measures for optimal healing. This is where Omega Medical Group comes into play.
At our Miami Shores and North Miami Beach offices we provide comprehensive foot care services to help you and your loved ones overcome problems like foot and ankle sports injuries. For more information about our practice or to request an appointment, call (305) 514-0404 today.