Everyone knows sleep is a powerful and important part of life. It can influence your mood, physical energy, and ability to think clearly during the day. A really good night's sleep can make you feel amazing the next day while little sleep or bad sleep does the exact opposite.
We also know that sleep is important for people who are sick or injured. We know that people who are very ill or have recently been through trauma will sleep a lot more than usual and that this sleep is definitely regenerative.
However, only recently has science actually proven why and how sleep promotes healing in the body. And why people who get enough sleep in recovery will actually heal faster. Let’s take a look at the healing power of sleep.
Sleep Provides the Energy You Need for Healing
The first thing to consider is how much additional energy it takes to heal or fight an illness. Knitting flesh together and fighting an immune-system battle takes a lot of effort on your body's part which requires sufficient nutrients and a lot more energy in burned calories. Your body has to build new tissue cells and white blood cells during recovery which is one of the reasons why you may feel so exhausted while healing. During the day, your brain and activities take up most of your body's energy. Just being awake thinking thoughts can divert resources from the healing process.
When you sleep, on the other hand, your body and mind go dormant for a while. All the normal functions of wakefulness go to sleep with you and your body is free to spend all its energy on healing instead of moving and thinking. There is even a phase of the REM cycle that temporarily paralyzes your muscles so that you don't even use energy twitching or rolling in your sheets. All this energy is diverted to healing and maintenance tasks. This is one of the primary ways sleep accelerates your healing, though you may wake up hungrier than usual because more calories were burned for the healing process.
Sleep Removes Lactic Acid from Muscles
For injuries that involve muscles, lactic acid buildup can be a real problem. Lactic acid forms when you exercise (or tense up) and hardens in the muscles causing what we know as knots. This can not only contribute to muscular injuries like sprains and strains, it can also get in the way of your healing process. Muscles full of lactic acid can't always relax and knit properly. Lactic acid knots near an injury can hold a muscle rigid and make the area more painful than it needs to be during recovery.
Sleep actually has a special process just for dealing with lactic acid. During the REM cycle, oxygen that would normally be needed for other things is released into the muscles. The oxygen not only promotes healing, it also breaks up lactic acid and allows it to dissolve safely into the bloodstream. This helps your muscles to unclench and relax which is ideal for healing any muscle-related injury.
Bonus Tip: If you feel creaky when you wake up, this is lactic acid that has been loosened but isn't fully released yet. Doing a full-body stretch first thing in the morning can break up the last of the lactic acid and make your muscles feel great.
Sleep Releases Human Growth Hormone
Perhaps the most powerful way that sleep promotes healing, however, is HGH. Some of you may be familiar with the acronym as a steroid alternative for the very rich but your body produces it naturally every time you sleep. HGH is what the human body uses to grow new tissue. Children have a great deal of it because they are constantly growing and adults can use as much as they can generate to keep their cells 'young' and lively.
As we get older, we produce less HGH but a small amount is released every night just before the REM cycle. It is used throughout your body to grow new tissue repairing the small injuries that happen every day like scrapes and bruises. It also plays a major part when you've been more seriously injured and want to heal quickly. The more time you spend in the pre-REM state which happens a few times a night for most people, the more HGH will be released and the faster you can grow new tissue.
Scientific Results of Sleep and Faster Healing
We're always interested in useful facts about sleep, but you don't have to take our word for it. A recent APS study just a few months ago accidentally proved that sleep is even more powerful than good nutrition when it comes to fast healing. They were hoping to prove that nutrition could speed up healing in spite of short sleep, which would have been good news for sleep-deprived college students everywhere.
The team formed three groups of test participants with minor injuries; a test group with nutrition supplements who slept three hours a night, a control group with no nutrition supplements also on short-sleep, and a control group who only slept for seven to nine hours a night with no nutritional supplements. The study found that those who slept more healed nearly half a day faster than the short-sleep groups and that, unfortunately, their nutrition balance had little to no effect.
This study proved that getting enough sleep when injured can perceptibly increase your healing time, even though they didn't mean to.
Snuggle Up and Start Healing
Getting injured or coming down with an illness is never fun and most people want to get this experience over with as quickly as possible. While recovery always takes time, there's a reason why people who've been in accidents or get pneumonia tend to sleep a lot. They're too busy healing to stay awake! So the next time you're down for recovery time and want to speed up the process, grab your favorite pillow and settle in for some serious napping. The more time you can spend deeply asleep, the better. For more fun information about health and sleep, contact us today!