Written by Danny Singles, PT, DPT, MA. Posted in Physical Health.

hibernationThe cold sucks. Ok, I said it. In case that first sentence was not clear enough, I am not a fan of the cold. In fact, I don’t like it at all. It just makes me want to grow a beard and hibernate. In college, I used to grow a beard every November through March and try to stay indoors as much as possible during that time period. When I braved the cold to attend classes (apparently, most teachers did not want to hibernate like I did), it was always as quickly as possible. School, home, school, home. Extra sleep during those months was always welcome.  Strange hibernation and facial hair habits aside, sleep is a very important part of our lives.

Regularly, I average 7 hours per night during the week of good and restful sleep. I’m fortunate enough to possess that ability to be so tired at the end of my day that it takes about 3 minutes from the time I get in bed to the time I fall asleep (my wife can attest to this as she has saved me countless times from getting bashed in the face by my Kindle as I nod off mid-sentence).  These 3 minutes are usually enough time for me to read 1-2 pages of a book or journal article. Such reading is part of my sleep-routine and helps me make a dent in the stack of papers I carry with me in my backpack.

For the majority of Americans, however, 7 hours of good sleep is a rarity. Current estimates suggest that the majority of adults need between 7-9 hours of restful sleep per night and most of us get far less than that amount. Teenagers and children need even more. According to the National Sleep Foundation, kids between 6-13 years old need as much as 11 or 12 hours of sleep per night, teenagers generally need 8-10 hours per night, and adults need between 7-9 hours per night. This isn’t just hours of sleep; this is hours of good sleep. Good sleep is crucial for normal function as well as healthy development and growth.

In previous articles, we have talked at length about movement and the dangers of being sedentary. For this month’s article, we are going to talk about sleep and the effects of sleep. To start, what affects it? Things like diet (ex: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, etc.), exercise (too much, too hard, not enough, etc.), stress (work, personal, health, etc.), medical conditions (ex: sleep apnea, back pain, etc.), children (different sleep-wake cycles, etc.), and busy schedules (work, social, etc.) are all examples of things that can negatively or positively affect sleep. Certainly, binge watching episodes of Homeland until 2AM will also affect it, but that is not for this article. I am not an expert here and will not present any research on the above topics (especially since I haven’t seen a single episode of Homeland). Aside from the above mentioning of them, however, I will say that having a routine and a pattern is important. My wife, for example, stretches her legs and back every night before bed, then reads for 20-30 min until she’s tired. We make a point to minimize cell-phone, TV, or laptop time before bed. For an hour or two before bed, we also try to avoid drinking excess liquids, consuming alcohol/sugar/caffeine, or anything else that might affect us while we sleep. 

Such routines go a long way towards keeping us sleeping well throughout the night. Having a sleep routine that does not involve TV screens, gadgets, or too much mental stimulation is important to achieving a good night’s sleep. Restful sleep sets us up for the next day to be a productive one. Lack of appropriate sleep can sabotage the following day. 

Let’s talk a bit about more something most of us are all too familiar with: sleep deprivation.  Lack of sleep can affect our risk of developing many health conditions. Such health risks can be both physical and mental. Physical risks of being chronically sleep deprived can potentially include some of the following: 

•  Increased risk of cardiovascular disease

•  Increased risk of developing Type II diabetes

•  Increased risk of obesity

•  Increased risk of high blood pressure

•  Decreased coordination and balance

•  Decreased speed, accuracy, and reaction time

•  Decreased sex drive

•  Increased risk of traumatic motor vehicle accident

These are just some of the physical effects of lack of sleep.  For all of us who have ever been sleep deprived at some time in our lives, I’m sure we could come up with others.

Our brains are also affected in many ways by poor sleep. This can range from just feeling tired and having an unproductive day, to increased irritability and impatience. Other mental or cognitive effects can potentially include things like: 

•  Poor short term and long term memory

•  Poor concentration, attention, and focus

•  Increased risk of depression/anxiety

•  Decreased creativity and problem solving skills

•  Stress on relationships due to disturbing a partner’s      sleep

•  Poor quality of life

Losing sleep is a serious issue. While actors like Edward Norton in Fight Club or Al Pacino in Insomniac might take it to an extreme, our societal lack of sleep is really an epidemic as we push to fit more into each day. 

The above lists might be general, but imagine how devastating decreased coordination, speed, and concentration might be for a high school lacrosse player returning to competition after a knee surgery. She can’t control her body or make instinctive reactions to situations on the field at her optimal level. This could not only impair her performance, it could also put her at significantly increased risk of re-injury. She is up late studying for tests after a full day of school, practice for her school team, practice for a club team, planning for her school activities, and then homework and studying. Averaging about 6 hours per night is just not enough for her body to heal and brain to adequately process all the events of her day, let alone recover and repair itself from a major surgery.  Those precious hours of deep and restful sleep are crucial to tissue healing and strengthening. As an athlete, I know she wants her best out of every day in school, every gym workout, and every game she in which she competes. Whether on the field, at home, or at work, getting enough sleep is a way to get the best out of each day.

Adequate sleep, however, is often an overlooked aspect of our daily routine. Whether recovering from injury, surgery, or totally healthy, most of us exist in a sleep debt. Some studies have suggested that short naps can make up for this sleep deprivation, but if we don’t have time to sleep 7-9 hours per night, will we really find time to take one or two 30 minute naps per day? Maybe the kindergartners are on to something here… If all of our work, home, fitness, athletic, and life activities are all negatively affected by not getting our Zzzzzz – maybe it is time to push back? Perhaps we should sleep on it.

Danny Singles, PT, DPT, MA

Danny is a sports physical therapist who specializes in manual therapy. His clinical interests include injury prevention, working with sports and orthopedic injuries, pre and post surgical rehab, and working with the pediatric patient population. He attended the University of Delaware for his Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Currently, he works full time as an outpatient sports therapist and provides educational outreach through lectures at local schools and fitness centers. He can be reached at Elite PT in Hockessin, DE at: (302-234-1030) or emailed directly at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He can also be followed on Twitter (@MoveEqualsLife) for current updates about health and wellness.

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