Sleep is essential for optimal health. As physiotherapists we often ask people about their lifestyle and sleep is just one of the variables that can affect your health, healing and wellbeing. Here are some of the most common questions our patients have:

How important is sleep?

Sleeping less than 7 hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, and increased risk of death.

Sleep has even been linked to impairments in immune function, increased pain and impaired performance.

What is considered the right amount of sleep?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention,

School Age (6 – 12 years old) require 9 – 12 hours of sleep per 24 hours.

Teen (13 – 18 years old) require 8 – 10 hours of sleep per 24 hours.

Adult (18 – 60 years old) require 7 or more hours of sleep per night.

I’ve heard about different kinds of sleep?

Sleep Cycle Graph

There are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (which has three different stages).

Light non-REM sleep is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep. During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow.

Intermediate non-REM sleep makes your heartbeat and breathing slow, and your muscles relax even further. Your body temperature drops and eye movements stop.

Deep non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night.

REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids.  Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.

Could there be a link between my pain and sleep?

Yes, people who are deprived of sleep have been shown to have a greater risk of developing chronic pain. Short term sleep reduction has also been associated with acutely painful episodes.

How can I improve my sleep?

Here are some tips:

1. Set a schedule factoring in the hours of sleep you need and build your daily commitments around it. Go to bed the same time every evening and get up the same time each morning.

2. Exercise daily 20-30 minutes but no later than a few hours before going to bed.

3. Avoid alcohol, sugar, and nicotine late in the day.

4. Find a relaxing activity to do before bed. E.g. reading and hot shower.

5. Prepare the sleep environment – avoid bright lights and noise, keep the temperature cool but comfortable, and keep all electronic devices away from the area you sleep.

How can I measure my sleep to see if I’m improving?

Most sleep tracking devices make some guesstimate as to how much you’re sleeping but can be a very useful guide.

For exact data on your sleep, it would be advisable to do a sleep study. This monitors brain waves more precisely than wearable technology and can be used to diagnose conditions like sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.

Sometimes, a good long sleep is one of the best cures 😉

This post has been written by Physiotherapist Andrew Storan B.Sc (Hons)

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