Painfully awake

By: Alison Dunn Sep 24, 2010
  Article

The body heals during sleep. Here’s how to make sure you get enough.

 

If you’re dealing with an injury or chronic pain, sleep is one of the most important elements of your recovery. The problem is that pain often makes it harder to sleep.

Sleep is when your cells start to regenerate, says Dr. Edward Leyton, a physician and psychotherapist from Kingston, Ont. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re compromising that cell regeneration and possibly your recovery, prolonging your pain and causing a vicious circle.

“Sleep is so important,” Leyton says. “The body is very active. In deep sleep, you’re actually regenerating cells. That’s why we sleep.”

The obvious answer might be to start popping pills that help ease the pain and help you sleep, but Leyton warns that those hypnotic drugs are very addictive and can lead to lasting problems. “They should really only be used for a few days,” he says. “Then you should find something more natural to help you sleep.”

Practice good sleep hygiene

The amount of sleep each person needs varies, but Leyton says a good, general rule of thumb is between six and eight hours a night. If you get less than that, your body gets into sleep debt and is constantly trying to catch up on some shut-eye.

He recommends practicing good sleep hygiene, or sleep habits, to avoid sleep problems and get that cell regeneration we need. He offers these tips for getting a good night’s rest.

1. Worry at lunchtime. If worry is part of what keeps you up at night, Leyton recommends you try to start worrying a lot earlier in the day. “It may sound like a strange thing to ask you to do, but do your worrying several hours before you go to bed,” he says. “Consciously worry about things and see if there are things you can work out in your mind while you’re awake so you don’t have to think about it when it’s time to sleep.”

2. Nix the nighttime workout. Exercise is great for relieving stress and helping you sleep, but not if you do it right before bedtime. That’s because exercise stimulates the nervous system and you won’t be ready for sleep until it’s too late.

3. Start a wind-down routine. In the days before electricity, as the sun started to set, our days wound down. Our bodies start to produce melatonin (the sleep hormone) as it gets dark – but if we’re sitting in our living rooms in front of the bright, flickering screen of a TV, we don’t get the benefit of those hormones. Leyton recommends cutting down on TV at night to prepare yourself for sleep. Instead, try having a hot bath or shower, light some candles and listen to some relaxing music to prepare your body for sleep.

4. Love the dark. Leyton recommends you sleep in a room that is completely dark, with no light coming in from outside. “It has even been found that fluorescents from clock radios affect the amount of melatonin we produce,” he says. Install blackout blinds and curtains and cover up the clock to ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible for a good night’s rest.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.