To truly heal your body you must get enough sleep. Compared to any medication or natural remedy, sleep might be the most powerful and efficient at healing your body. Sleep helps replenish energy, boost your immune system, rest your brain, improve your memory, and decrease any pain you are experiencing. In addition sleep improves longevity, increases mental acuity, and enhances learning and creativity. The underlying reason sleep is so important to healing is because neurotransmitters and hormones related to healing and repairing injuries are released in high amounts during sleep. Typically, the average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night; however, these numbers go up when our bodies need to heal.
Sleep deprivation not only can prolong your healing process, but it can actually make the pain and suffering you experience worse. A lack of sleep can increase pain. This occurs because your sympathetic nervous system is forced to work harder, which elevates levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, it adversely affects the hormones responsible for healing your body. Sleep deprivation can also affect the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, impair your memory and learning, increase inflammation, impair your cognitive function and impact your appetite, all of which hinders your body to properly heal itself.
If you are having a difficult time sleeping, especially after a recent injury, that can be common, but the good news is it can also be corrected. Below are five steps you can take to establish better, more consistent sleep.
Step 1: Establish a Healthy Sleep Routine
Your body become accustom to routine and a sleeping routine is no different. A regular routine will help your body relax and allow you to fall asleep faster and better.
- As childish as it may sound, it is important to pick a bedtime that you would like to fall asleep at and more importantly is that you stick to that time.
- If you are not dealing with an injury, it is important to try and get at least seven hours of sleep. If you are dealing with an injury you should get at least eight hours of sleep (more is recommended, but eight is the minimum to strive for).
- Eliminate things that “rev” you up at least 45 minutes before you go to sleep. Some things like brushing your teeth, preparing for the next day, and some studies have said to eliminate any cell phone or tablet viewing at least 45 minutes before you sleep so your body can calm down and prepare itself for sleep.
- Try to stop eating at least an hour before you go to sleep. If you do eat closer to the time to plan on going to sleep keep the meal simple and light.
- Eliminate foods and drinks that interfere with sleep. Coffee and tea drinkers may want to try eliminating your afternoon cup. Alcohol is an important drink to eliminate before bed. Although alcohol may make you feel tired, it actually disturbs your sleep cycle and prevents your body from obtaining the proper amount of REM sleep needed.
- Snacks high in tryptophan (i.e bananas, milk and turkey) and magnesium (i.e. cheese, almonds, and bananas again) help relax your body and induce sleep. These snacks can be eaten closer to your bedtime in an effort to help you sleep.
- Find what relaxes you and do that before you sleep. Whether it is reading, doing a crossword puzzle or meditating, relaxing your mind and body will help you sleep.
Step 2: Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Every person desires a different sleeping environment, so it is important to find out what you like and emulate that environment every night.
- Temperature. Temperature is key to your sleep. There are some studies focusing on the proper room temperature for the best sleep, but more importantly focus on your body temperature. Make sure you are comfortable with the temperature you sleep in. Whether that is a hot room with no sheets or a cold room with several blankets, that is your choice to make, just make sure you are comfortable with it.
- Turn the lights off. Sleeping in complete darkness (even without the light from your cell phone, alarm clock or plugin) is best. The darkness helps tell your brain it is time to sleep and allows your brain to relax your body into sleep.
- Eliminate the noise. If you sleep with a fan or air purifier it could be affecting your sleep. White noise often disrupts restful sleep.
- Meditative sound. Sound, relaxing tones or melodies, opposed to noise can help relax your body and provide you a restful night’s sleep.
- Select a comfortable mattress. I prefer a memory foam mattress.
Step 3: Exercise During the Day
Exercise is something that can both help and hinder your body’s ability to sleep. The time you exercise and the level of intensity are important to how your body sleeps. For a better nights sleep try exercising in the morning or late afternoon/early evening. To prevent disturbance in your sleep do not rigorously exercise right before you go to sleep. Your body is stimulated by the exercise you perform and will need several hours to relax and be ready for sleep.
Step 4: Maintain Proper Support
Make sure you have a good mattress that you are comfortable with. If you feel that your bed is too soft, try putting a piece of exterior grade plywood between the mattress and box spring. If you feel that the bed is too hard, try adding a thicker mattress pad for extra cushioning.
- If you sleep on your back people find that putting a wedge or a few pillows under their knees helps. Typically, people will also use a smaller pillow under their head to reduce any strain on their neck.
- If you sleep on your side, try putting a pillow between your legs. This will reduce any strain you put on your pelvis. Also, try using a higher pillow to help level your spine.
- Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended, especially if you are dealing with an injury.
Step 5: Calm Your Nervous System with Restorative Practices
If steps one through four are still not enough there are several techniques below you can use to help calm your nervous system and prepare yourself for sleep.
- Snake breathing. Take a big, deep breath and while exhaling make a hissing sound. This helps oxygen go deeper into your lungs and open your diaphragm up wider, resulting in a calmer mind and heart.
- Vowel sounds. Exhaling while making vowel sounds, ooooooooh, uuuuuuuu, or ahhhhhhhh, extends the amount of time you exhale and tricks your body into breathing deeper. Also, the sounds help soothe and calm your mind.
- Alernating nostril breathing. Focus on inhaling and exhaling through one nostril for three to four cycles and then switch to the other nostril. This helps balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
- Reclining pose. Lay flat on your back with your knees up. Place one hand over your stomach and one hand over your chest. Breath in focusing making your hand on your stomach rise and exhale. Repeat, but focus on making your hand on your chest rise. Alternate between the two hands. This should help relax your diaphragm and help calm your body.
- Sit on the floor comfortably with your legs crossed. Take a pillow or blanket and hug it around your chest and stomach area. Close your eyes and deeply breath in and out. This should help clear your mind and relax your body to prepare yourself for sleep.
- Legs on the wall. Try laying flat on your back with your legs vertically stretched up the wall. This should help release any tension in your legs and open your diaphragm up.
These five steps should help you sleep better and help you heal faster from any injury you sustain. Some injuries involve more pain and discomfort than others and will take a longer time to heal, so it is important to start incorporating these techniques and sleeping patterns into your routine now.