While in Physical Therapy school a few of my classmates and I had a saying about sleep when we were grinding it out studying for practicals, exams, quizzes, and assignments that seemed to be never-ending. At 2 am in the library we would state, “We will sleep when we are dead!” Yes, I know, it was maybe a little intense, morbid, and honestly insane. We used this to give us the extra push to continue reviewing the material one more time before the test. During this time, we knew it was temporary until we finished PT school but looking back, I know it probably wasn’t the best choice. It worked at the time and we kept doing it because why fix something that isn’t broken?

Maybe, you have been in a similar situation, whether it being busy with kids, work, school, or just life in general, and you just seem to never have enough time to get a good/full night’s sleep. As events happen in life, I think it is completely normal to “burn the midnight oil” from time to time. However though, we need to look at the value and importance of sleep in the same lens as we view food, water, and air. We need it to survive!

With that being said, I want to highlight a few modifiable factors that can directly impact your sleep quality starting tonight as well as benefits of adequate sleep:

  1. Environment: Very dark, comfortable, and no disturbing sounds
  • Try flipping over your phone, dimming your alarm clock, using curtains to block out streetlights, or even using an eye mask. For sound, try to make it quiet or if you need sound to sleep use a fan or sound machine with ambient consistent white noise.
  1. Room Temperature: 66-70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Research has shown this temperature is optimal for the best quality sleep.
  1. Limit Blue Light 30 minutes before bed
  • This one is hard for everyone nowadays but try to limit using your phone, watching TV, or any type of screen time at least 30 min before bed.
  1. Amount: 7-8 hours
  • This amount is the sweet spot. Studies have shown too little (Less than 7 hours) or too much (over 8 hours) can both have detrimental effects on your health.
  1. Position: Back or side sleeping is best
  • This one is often difficult to control because we toss and turn in our sleep involuntarily. However, starting either on your back or side will at least get you on the right track. Make sure to use a pillow(s) to adequately support your back and neck to avoid unnecessary stress on these joints. 

Benefits of Adequate Sleep:

  • Improved Immune Function
  • Improved Tissue Healing
  • Potential improvement in pain modulation
  • Improved Cardiovascular Health
  • Improved Motor Skill Learning
  • Improved Attention and Working Memory

With 50–70 million individuals in the US experiencing chronic sleep disturbances, it is important to realize how important sleeping is for our bodies and health. Utilizing this information can help us improve our sleep and make us feel better overall. Just like everything in life, it will not always be perfect. There will be nights you will not get optimal and adequate sleep but don’t let that become a habit. Figure out what you can control and start there!

-Dr. Arron Pierce PT, DPT

References:

-Siengsukon CF, Al-Dughmi M, Stevens S. Sleep Health Promotion: Practical Information for Physical Therapists. Phys Ther. 2017 August 1;97(8):826-836. doi:10.1093/ptj/pzx057.

-Adler L. Sleep Hygiene. 2021 March 31; https://www.sleep.org/sleep-hygiene/