How Important Is Sleep for Reduction of Pain and Inflammation?

Everyone knows the feeling after they get a good night’s sleep, waking up feeling rested, energetic, and ready to take on the day. People spend 1/3 of their life sleeping, however one third of the US population deals with sleep disturbances. Not only does sleep impact a person’s mood and energy level, but it is a critical period of time where the body recovers all systems of the body. Sleep is critical for pain relief, tissue healing, immune function, cardiovascular health, depression and anxiety, cognitive function and learning. Between 7-10 hours of quality sleep are optimal for overall function. Gone are the days where people would pride themselves on how little sleep you get each night because you are too busy being productive. 

The question is, how much does sleep really affect your ability to heal and reduce the pain and inflammation associated with your injury? Research has shown that sleep deprivation results in increased pain, poor tissue healing, reduced quality of life, depression and anxiety increase, difficulty learning new tasks and attention deficits, impaired memory and ability to learn new skills, and overall quality of life. It has also been shown to predispose you to higher risk of injury, falls, and accidents. Chronic lack of sleep or sleep disturbance can also predispose you to other major health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and dementia. 

What happens though if pain is what is causing you to experience a lack of sleep or a lack of quality sleep? Often times when dealing with an injury, it can impact your ability to sleep secondary to pain. Physical therapy to help decrease your pain to help find comfortable positions to lie in, in addition to multiple techniques help prime your environment and body to get better quality sleep. 

  1. Consistently go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  2. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine (warm bath, meditation, stretching). Avoid stimulating activities right before bed like watching TV or looking on your phone.
  3. Make your room cold ranging between 60-65 degrees 
  4. Make sure the room is dark
  5. Avoid vigorous exercise 2-3 hours prior to going to bed as it stimulates your body and brain, creating a harder time calming down and relaxing.
  6. Avoid caffeinated food or drinks at least 4 hours prior to sleep.
  7. Avoid spicy food and alcohol at least 3 hours before bed. 
  8. Avoid daytime napping UNLESS you already get 7 hours of sleep separate from that nap. 
  9. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex. Do not eat, work, watch TV in bed. 

If you feel that you have issues with sleep because of or prior to an injury, discuss this with your physical therapist as it has a large impact on pain, healing, and overall outcomes in your recovery. 

Siengsukon, C. F., Al-Dughmi, M., & Stevens, S. (2017). Sleep Health Promotion: Practical Information for Physical Therapists. Physical Therapy, 97(8), 826-836. doi:10.1093/ptj/pzx057

Written by Anna Bechtold PT, DPT, OCS a Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist at the APRS Physical Therapy West clinic.