In general, physical health is supported by diet, exercise, and sleep. You may be able to get along for a while on two out of the three, but eventually, without the third, your physical health will suffer. Sleep is more than a luxury; it’s vital to the body functioning at full efficiency. Morning aches and pains are often attributed to age, poor posture, or over exercise. While those can certainly be contributors, lack of sleep may be at the heart of or a major contributor to the problem.
Sleep and Daily Recovery
During an average night, an adult goes through five or six sleep cycles. Within each of these 60 to 90-minute cycles, you pass through five sleep stages. You may not go through them in order or spend equal amounts of time in each, but the body needs every one to fully function.
Sleep gives the body time to repair, heal, and rebuild itself from daily stressors. Brain cells shrink so that spinal fluid can flush through the brain and clear out cell-destroying toxins. The immune system recharges itself and gets to work fighting off infection. And, since we’re addressing aches and pains, it’s during sleep that muscle repair and recovery takes place.
How Sleep Fuels Muscle Repair
When you overuse, over-exercise, or injure a muscle, you create tears in the muscle tissue. During the first of the deep sleep stages, the body releases human growth hormone to flood these tears and stimulate the muscle regrowth process.
If you alter your sleep cycle by going to bed two or three hours late or you get less than seven hours of sleep, the release of growth hormone is shortened and/or altered. Illness, injury, or over-exercising magnify the delay in recovery. The result – sore, achy muscles that don’t have time to recover from daily stress or injury.
Lack of Sleep and Pain Perception
Aches and pains may increasingly worsen because of sleep’s relationship with pain perception. Without sleep, your ability to resist pain may drop by as much as 25 percent. Consequently, your pain will feel more intense when you’re tired.
Lack of sleep also affects your response to pain medication. A dulled response to pain kills may mean you have to take more to get the same effects or start a more powerful pain medication. Both are an outcome most people wish to avoid.
Better Sleep Through Healthy Habits
As dismal as the effects of sleep deprivation may seem, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself get the rest you need. New habits take time and effort to establish, but once you do, your body (and mind) will thank you.
Get Comfortable: Everything about your bedroom environment should promote healthy sleep. A mattress that supports your weight and sleep position, as well as a dark, cool, quiet environment provide the most sleep supportive conditions.
Make Bedtime a Priority: One of the single most valuable, yet sometimes difficult, habits to cultivate is a consistent bedtime. The body uses regular 24-hour cycles to time the release of sleep hormones. A consistent bedtime strengthens your body’s response to these natural cycles. In turn, you start to feel sleepy at the same time every day.
Follow a Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine can help prepare you mentally and physically for sleep, especially if you struggle at the onset. The activities in your routine can relax your body and signal the brain to release sleep hormones.
Increase Your Time Outside: Special photoreceptors in the eyes absorb sunlight and send signals directly to the area of the brain that controls the sleep cycle. Adequate sunlight helps keep your body in sync with the day/night timing of the earth’s rotation.
Better sleep can help you feel more alert and attentive while reducing aches and pains. Give yourself time to develop new habits, and before you know it, you’ll feel better physically, and you’ll be getting a full night’s rest.