John DeLucchi, PT, SCS
You’ve probably heard how rest is important for injury recovery. Beyond moving around less and cutting back on exercise, people often fail to consider the importance of sleep as part of the recovery process.
From active individuals to professional athletes, sleep plays a crucial role in injury recovery. Whether you’re dealing with a muscle strain, damaged tendon or bone injury, sleep is key to getting your body back in top form.
“If you want to upgrade your athleticism, decrease your risk of injury, decrease persistent pain, recover faster, boost your immune system, have more energy and perform better, sleep is critical,” said John DeLucchi, Physical Therapy Manager for OrthoCarolina Mooresville. “Appropriate rest can be a catalyst to achieving these results. If you are an athlete, this is a metric you should definitely be tracking to perform your best.”
One night of poor sleep is unlikely to have a negative impact on your ability to heal from an injury, but problems can start to creep in when you skimp on sleep for days at a time. The amount of sleep needed per night varies from person to person, but in general, most adults should aim to sleep somewhere between seven and nine hours each night.
Muscles and tissues repair and rejuvenate as we sleep, so if you’re not getting a sufficient amount of rest each night, it’s going to be harder for your body to bounce back from an injury. If you really want to get better, you need to give your body time to heal.
The Science Behind Sleep & Recovery
Here’s a bit of the science behind why sleep is so important to proper injury recovery.
The first reason relates to blood flow. As you fall into the deeper stages of sleep, your muscles will see an increase in blood flow, which brings along oxygen and nutrients that that help recover and repair muscles and regenerate cells.
Hormones play a role, too. When the body enters its deep sleep stage known as non-REM sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormones that stimulate muscle repair and growth. When the body doesn’t get enough rest, the secretion of this growth hormone declines, and it can become harder for your body to recover from injuries.
The hormone prolactin, which helps regulate inflammation, is also released while sleeping. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to experience inflammation in the body, which can make injury recovery more difficult while also putting you at risk of further injury.
Where & How You Sleep
In order to get the best possible rest, it’s important to think about how and where you sleep. Two considerations are key here:
- Sleeping in a position that doesn’t further aggravate your injury
- Sleeping on a mattress that promotes comfortable rest and recovery. (Think of your mattress as your performance tool for better sleep.)
To determine an ideal sleeping position, don’t be afraid to seek advice from your doctor based on the injury you’ve experienced. It will take far longer to recover from an injury that’s repeatedly irritated throughout the night because of the way you’re sleeping.
To learn a bit more, read up on sleep positions and the health considerations that come along with each here.
When it comes to a mattress, you’ll want something that provides both comfort and support and evenly distributes your weight so that you’re neither irritating pressure points nor sinking and collapsing in too deeply. If you’re waking up achier than when you drifted off to sleep, your mattress might be an issue.
These days, a number of companies like Bear, Purple, and Amerisleep make mattresses well-suited for athletes and injury recovery. Mattress Advisor has outlined some great options, which you can learn more about in their mattress guide.
“A healthy adult should get approximately seven and a half to eight hours of sleep. There are a lot of great tools to track this now,” DeLucchi said. “Download an app of your choosing and start to take a look over the next 21-30 days and see what it can do for your life and athleticism.”
When it comes to health and recovery, there’s a good reason why sleep is often prescribed by medical professionals. Whether you’re recovering from an injury or are healthy and working to maintain your wellbeing, sleep is an important investment in your overall health.
This article was originally published on April 17, 2018, and has been updated on December 18, 2020.