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“Body, Heal Thyself!” How To Achieve Better Health Through Good Sleep Habits

By Jennifer Nelson, PT, DPT, DscPT

How do you wind down from a stressful day at work?  Even if a good workout is your preferred method, most people don’t exercise right before bedtime.  Instead, up to 90% of Americans use some sort of electronic device at least a few nights of the week within 1 hour of going to bed.  Whether it is your smart phone, laptop, TV, or settling in with an e-reader to wind down before bed, recent research is suggesting that use of those items may prolong the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.  While I love my Kindle and the convenience it provides, I have never thought about the effect it may be having on my natural sleep cycle.

The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be understated.  Beyond setting your energy level for the next day, quality sleep allows your body time to heal itself and rejuvenate.  Whether bumps and bruises, sore muscles, or a more serious injury, your body releases hormones while you sleep that can enhance tissue growth and healing.  You also make more white blood cells as you sleep that help you fight off bacteria or viruses.  These and many other benefits may be enjoyed with high quality and quantity sleep, but the challenge is finding enough time to go to bed on time or being able to fall asleep promptly after you do decide to shut down for the night.  Research suggests that the ability to fall asleep quickly is impacted by using electronics before bed.

The reason my Kindle may keep me up longer after reading it is simple, but not as obvious as you may think.  The screens from these devices emit blue light, which stimulates receptors in your eyes and research has shown that will suppress the level of Melatonin produced in your brain.  Melatonin levels help regulate your normal sleep/wake cycle (called the Circadian Rhythm) and should rise as you reach the end of the day.  Naturally, as the sun sets, the amount of blue light taken in by the body should decrease, but normal screens prolong your exposure to it and could, in turn, add to your difficulty of falling asleep.

So, what can you do about it?  Multiple apps have been developed to track the time of day for your device and adjust the amount of blue light emitted, based on the natural rise and set of the sun.  Software like F.lux and Twilight can be used on iOS or Android devices, as well as downloaded onto your PC.  They can be turned on/off as needed and will automatically adjust your device based on location and time of year as the sun sets and your exposure to natural blue light decreases.  While it may take a little while to get used to a reddish colored screen, the screen will be easier on the eyes and can cut down on glare at night without altering levels of Melatonin as much.  The best part is both of these apps are free!  Newer versions of the Kindle Fire and iPads have these features auto-loaded, called “Blue Shade” and “Night Shift” respectively.

Use these quick tips help you get more sleep and allow your body to heal or recover faster!  Physical therapists can also provide pointers on improving your sleep posture so you may sleep more soundly and wake up with fewer aches and pains!

Jennifer Nelson, PT, DPT, DscPT, is a physical therapist at PhysioPartners.  She is accepting new patients in our Loop office and may be reached at (773) 665-9950.