SLEEP - The underestimated healing wonder
When people ask me the best way to deal with stress, injury, weight gain, lack of motivation and general all round grumpiness, I tell them to check up on how much sleep they are getting.
Sleep and sleep patterns have been known to be major causes for many ailments of both a mental and physical nature. Heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and mental health issues can all be attributed, at least in part, to a lack of adequate sleep.
Specialists in sleep have determined that sleep and the varying stages of sleep have a profound effect on recovery from the previous days activities, mental focus, happiness and general well being to name a few.
Essentially if we get injured or produce pain from incorrect movement patterns over a prolonged period, we cause wear and tear on our cells. Sleep is when we do the majority of our healing of these normal wear and tear effects.
The natural process for our bodies is a mix of the catabolic functions of life and the anabolic repair processes our cells undergo to keep us alive.
Catabolism is the natural breakdown of our bodies cells due to their function. An easy example is the fatigue and pain one gets following a long work day or heavy physical labour.
Anabolism is the repair and regrowth of cells following their natural breakdown. The majority of anabolic repair occurs overnight whilst we sleep. Obviously if we do not sleep enough or consistently and continue to work hard or play hard we will start to “burn out”. This process is amplified if we are carrying and injury of any kind.
Sleep also reduces hormones such as insulin and cortisol. As our insulin levels drop we can access our stored fats as a source of energy to fuel our repair processes.
So where does sleep fit into the healing of an injury.
Injured tissue whether it is muscle, nerve, bones or connective tissue, requires sleep to allow our hormonal balances to shift and then to allow the cells to work to repair themselves as well as remove cells too badly damaged from the area. When we damage a muscle for example, the torn muscle will have some fibres that can be repaired and others that need to be broken down and removed and then replaced with scar tissue.
The process of cellular repair is well known but is somewhat complicated. Suffice to say that there is an optimum amount of movement needed to maintain bone, muscle and connective tissue health (it is a little different for neural tissue). If you move too little then scar tissue is excessive, move too much and scar tissue does not form correctly and prolongs the process. Resting and sleeping allow our tissue to repair whilst not under stress.
The pain of an injury does increase our fight or flight hormones within the body. The principle “stress”hormone is cortisol.
Cortisol in a healthy human, increases in production just as we wake (studies have linked it sunrise as a time to commence our waking process) and naturally decrease as the sun goes down. This is a natural process of our circadian rhythm. If we stay up too late watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” or more action packed movies then we upset this cortisol production. A side effect of cortisol production is that we are denied access to our stored fat which we need for healing.
Poor Sleep and How We Do It
Most people do not get enough sleep.
- Babies need 14 hours per day
- Infants and toddlers 11-12 hours with naps during the day
- Pre-schoolers 10-13 hours
- Primary school age children 9-11 hours
- Teenagers 8-10 hours (they sleep later and wake later naturally)
- Adults 7-9 hours (age 18-60)
- Older adults 7-8 hours
(Taken From www.sahealth.sa.gov.au)
Most issues occur getting to sleep. Here are a few things to do to try to improve your pattern.
- Ensure bedrooms are dark and quiet
- Turn off phones and electronic devices (including the TV) one hour before bed (light emission from TV, tablets and smartphones causes a stimulus similar to sunrise and cortisol increases making sleep more difficult)
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and food for two to three hours before bedtime
- Bed is for sleeping and procreation (according to Dr Mosley), do not read, eat or watch television in bed
- Establish a routine for going to bed and for waking at the same time
- Don’t sleep in on weekends as this wrecks the circadian rhythm
If you are injured and your GP or specialist has prescribed medication to be taken before sleep be consistent with the time you take it and only take it with water if possible.
Good Luck and get some sleep.