17 Feb The effects of sleep and stress on recovery from injury
When doing my Chinese herbal medicine training 20 years ago, I clearly remember my tutor emphasising the importance of sleep in a person’s recovery from illness. In fact, he said it was the most important treatment principle of all: for sleep is when the body best heals itself.
The same can be said of injury. In the deeper stages of sleep, there is an increase in the flow of blood to the muscles, which carries oxygen and nutrients for the regeneration of cells. When the body enters non-REM (deep) sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormones which stimulate muscle repair and growth.
When the body doesn’t get enough rest, the secretion of this hormone decreases, slowing down the recovery process. The hormone prolactin, which helps regulate inflammation, is also released during sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, inflammation takes longer to heal.
Many factors determine how quickly you will heal from injury: your physical condition and any other pre-existing conditions and the state of your immune system. Stress is also a major factor.
There are two parts to the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic (fright/flight impulse) and the parasympathetic (rest/digest energy) systems.
Stress produces the “fight or flight” chemicals, which alert your body to danger. These chemicals raise blood pressure and heart rate. Cortisol prepares you to take flight; fats and sugars are released into the blood stream giving you instant energy. However, cortisol also reduces the efficiency of your immune system and therefore slows down the healing process.
If we are constantly stressed, the over-production of these chemicals eventually take their toll on the body. Unpleasant symptoms may arise such as heart palpitations, nausea, anxiety and depression. Pain itself Is also a stressor. And conversely, if we are stressed, it is difficult for us to get a good night’s sleep, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
To combat stress, it is important to invoke the parasympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture helps to stimulate this rest/digest energy as do activities such as tai chi, yoga and gentle exercise. Singing, chanting and laughter have been proven to slow down the heart rate and stimulate digestion. Meditation and mindfulness techniques calm the mind.
Tips for reducing stress and getting a good night’s sleep:
Invest in a comfortable bed. It is where we spend a third of our lives.
Avoid technology late at night; no tv, tablets, phones or laptops in the bedroom. Blue light suppresses the release of melatonin in our brains, which leads to a lower quality of sleep.
Acupuncture and massage.
Meditation and mindfulness techniques.
Yoga, tai chi, gentle exercise.
Singing and chanting.
Connecting with and having a good time with friends and loved ones. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say.
Walks in nature and swimming in the sea.
Gardening! Growing plants helps tune us into the natural cycles and remind us that things take time.
© Christine Cunningham