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Healthy Sleeping Habits Strengthen Your Immune System

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults in the U.S. doesn’t get enough sleep. Our bodies need sleep in order to properly heal and repair tissues as well as strengthen our immune system.  Adults should get seven or more hours of sleep a night and school-aged children and teenagers need eight to 11 hours. Poor sleep can lead to health issues such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Practicing good sleep hygiene, the practice of healthy behaviors you can do to affect your sleep routine, can help you get the restorative sleep that you need.  

Tips to practice good sleep hygiene

  1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule.  Going to bed and waking at the same time helps the body know when it is time to prepare for sleep and keep your internal clock regular.  
  2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine and sleep environment. Start this 30-60 minutes before bed to help your body wind down and prepare for sleep. It may include stretching, reading or meditation.  If your sleep environment is too hot or too cold, it may interfere with sleep and cause you to wake often. An ideal sleep temperature  is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit according to The National Sleep Foundation.  
  3. Avoid screens. The blue light of screens confuses your internal clock and thinking it is daytime and reduces your melatonin production.  Try to avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bed to allow your melatonin levels to rise so you can fall asleep faster.
  4. Limit your caffeine intake.  Even a small amount of caffeine can stay in your system for several hours.  It can also stimulate your  bladder to empty, making you have to get up to use the bathroom during the night.  Try to avoid caffeine after 12pm so that it does not interfere with your evening sleep. 
  5. Use your bed only for sleep and sex.  Do not eat, work or watch TV in bed. This helps signal the brain that when you are in bed it is time for sleep and allows it to wind down quicker.  
  6. Avoid naps. Napping can steal away from your nighttime sleep causing more difficulty with falling and staying asleep. If you do need to nap try to limit it to  under 30 minutes and avoid napping in the afternoon. 
  7. Go to bed only when you are tired.  If you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes then get up and do something relaxing like reading, stretching or meditation before going back to bed.  Forcing yourself  to fall asleep can create a negative sleep environment and frustration  interfering with your sleep. 

What are the best Sleeping Positions?

Another important aspect of sleep is the position in which we fall asleep. While there is only so much you can do once you fall asleep, it is important to set yourself up for success when climbing into bed. As a physical therapist, we end up seeing a lot of patients when their sleep becomes disrupted secondary to increased pain. The position that you start your sleep in plays a big role in how successful the night’s sleep will be.

The best positions to start out your night are either on your side or lying on your back. One way to prevent the inevitable twisting and turning during the night is to use supported sleeping positions. When you are on your side, this means a pillow between your knees, which helps to stack your hips one on top of the other, aligning your spine. A pillow can also be used between your arms to help keep your upper back in a neutral alignment. The final aspect of good spinal alignment is to ensure that your neck is also in a neutral position, meaning not too far up or too far down when resting on the bed.

If you are a back sleeper, a supported sleeping position includes putting a pillow or bolster under your knees which helps to reduce stress in your low back and pelvis and puts your spine into a more neutral position.

Sleeping on your stomach is not ideal for a healthy back as it is impossible to maintain a neutral upper neck, since you have to turn your head to one side. Stomach sleeping also puts more pressure on your low back. If you must sleep on your stomach, placing a pillow under your hips can help ease some pressure in your low back.

When turning in bed, don’t twist or bend at the waist. Instead, think about keeping your body as stiff as a log and moving everything together at the same time. While you are doing this, keep your stomach pulled in and tightened, and bend your knees toward the chest when you roll.

Sleep Questionnaire

Good sleep is defined by a range of characteristics. Below is a basic list of questions your McHenry physical therapist may ask to assess your sleep quality.

  1. How much sleep do you typically get?
  2. Do you feel well rested when you wake up?
  3. Is your condition impacting your sleep? If so, how?
  4. How would you rate your sleep quality?
  5. Does being sleepy during the day interfere with your daily function?
  6. Do you have difficulty falling asleep, difficulty returning to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night, or difficulty with waking up too early (possible indicator of insomnia if lasts longer than 3 months)?
  7. Do you snow loudly or frequently? Has anyone observed you stop breathing while you sleep (possible indicator of obstruction sleep apnea)?
  8. Do you have a strong urge to continually more your legs while you are trying to sleep (possible indicator or restless leg syndrome)?

Contact an Experienced McHenry Physical Therapist Near You

These are just a few simple steps that can be taken to improve your sleep.  If you think you may have a more serious medical condition, such as sleep apnea, it is always recommended to discuss it with your doctor. Talk to your physical therapist today about improving your sleep and improving your health! 

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