Melbourne Podiatry Clinic

Sleeping your way to recovery

You’ve received your diagnosis and you’re doing all that it takes to get back to doing what you love…. Or maybe you’re just prone to niggles in training? We get it! Being injured and in pain couldn’t be more frustrating. So how can you best optimise your healing response to ensure you see yourself back to full recovery? 

A person’s ability to heal is undoubtedly influenced by a host of different factors but we’ve all felt the effects of sleep deprivation – that irritable feeling after a terrible sleep? Difficult to concentrate? Yep. We all have. In fact, a recent study reported one in three individuals admit to unintentionally falling asleep during the daytime, implying that sleep deprivation is a prevalent problem.  

Sleep deprivation is widely recognised to have adverse impacts on individuals with active musculoskeletal pain and injury. It has also been shown to increase injury risk, particularly in athletic populations. If you’re injured and feel your sleep could be better, you may just be missing out on several essential physiological changes that occur throughout the body overnight, all of which are critical to ensuring adequate rest and healing occurs!  

So how does this impact your lower limb injury? 

  • Whilst not well understood, a strong body of evidence suggests that losing sleep even for a few hours each night has the ability to trigger cellular responses that raise the level of inflammation within the body. Whilst we typically favour an acute inflammatory response that occurs secondary to an injury, for example, an ankle sprain or fracture; the low-grade, long-term ‘chronic’ inflammation that is triggered by an accumulation of inadequate sleep is certainly less favourable and can be detrimental to our functioning and ability to heal. Chronic, long-term inflammation provokes your immune system to fight the body indefinitely with no real resolution of symptoms
  • A reduction in sleep is associated with a decline in hormone release. Growth hormone is typically increased in the early hours of sleep and is a prerequisite for tissue regeneration and repair. A reduction in growth hormone release amongst others results in impaired transportation of proteins required for tissue regeneration, growth and healing. 
  • Sleep deprivation also increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This interferes with the production of anti-inflammatory substances meaning that your injured area remains inflamed and very slow to heal. 
  • Poor, fragmented sleep reduces the brain’s capacity to deal with the effects of unpleasant stimuli, such as pain. In fact, one study found that an individual’s pain tolerance can increase by up to 20% after four nights of adequate sleep! 

How can you improve your sleep hygiene? 

  • Avoid mentally stimulating activities 1 hour before you plan to sleep (Yes, that includes putting down your phone!);
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks before sleep times;
  • Avoid exercise before sleep times;
  • Ensure your room is dark enough, and of adequate temperature;
  • Don’t ignore your body’s cues, if you’re tired, head to bed! 

Tried all of the above without success? We recommend having a chat with your general practitioner or a sleep specialist for further advice! Evidently, sleep is important to us! Whether you’re an athlete, weekend warrior or simply spend precious time on your feet and this has predisposed to injury, delving a little further into your sleep habits may just assist you with getting on top of your injury! 

Written by Tegan Sipthorp – Podiatrist at Melbourne Podiatry Clinic

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