How Are You Sleeping?

When you go to see a physical therapist for the first time, one of the questions they might ask you is, “How much sleep are you getting?” It might seem kind of strange that your physical therapist is asking you about your sleep, but sleep actually plays a big role in how we perceive pain and the overall success of our recovery process. It is well known that sleep is very important for optimal day to day function and mental clarity. However, what is less often discussed is the importance of sleep in managing chronic pain or recovering from an injury or surgery.

In an article published in Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal, the authors discussed that sleep is crucial for immune system function, tissue healing, pain perception, cardiovascular health, and brain function. Additionally, poor sleep health has been found to increase pain perception, decrease ones ability to learn new motor skills, and put an individual at a higher risk of accidents, injuries, or falls. Lastly, when you aren’t getting enough high-quality sleep, it has been found that you will have more difficulty performing work responsibilities, self-care tasks, and recreational activities.

Now that we understand the importance of sleep, what changes can we make to improve the quality and duration of our sleep each night? To answer this, I’ll resort to one of my favorite books about sleep, Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. Listed below are a few of my favorite Sleep Smarter tips to improve your sleep which will help you more effectively manage your pain and encourage a more successful physical therapy recovery.

  1. Try to get more sunlight during the day
    • Have you ever heard someone talk about their biological clock that allows them to wake up at the same time every morning without an alarm clock? Well, this is a real thing! It’s called your circadian timing system. It has been found that getting more natural sunlight during the day will help you sleep better at night because it helps your body stay “on schedule” with its sleep-wake cycles.
  1. No screens before bedtime
    • As much as we all love our phones, tablets, televisions, and computers, studies have shown that staying away from these screens for at least 90-minutes before bedtime can significantly improve the quality of our sleep. Why is this? The artificial blue light emitted from our screens signals your body to secrete more “daytime hormones” which throws off our body’s natural circadian timing system. The more out of whack your biological clock is, the harder it will be for your body to fall and stay asleep.
  1. Keep it chilly
    • Believe it or not, the temperature of your bedroom can heavily influence the quality of your sleep. Studies have shown that a bedroom temperature of 60° to 68°F is the optimal temperature for high quality sleep. I don’t know about you, but this seems kind of cold to me! However, when your body senses that it’s time to go to sleep, your core body temperature actually drops to encourage falling and staying asleep. So, if your bedroom is too warm, it is actually making it physiologically more difficult for your body to get to and stay at the optimal temperature for the best sleep.
  1. Caffeine cut off
    • Are you one of those people who drinks caffeine later in the afternoon to help you power through those last few hours of work and the rest of your typical work-night routine? Although you’re enjoying the short-term benefits of the caffeine boost, your sleep health is probably taking a hit. Having caffeine later in the afternoon or on your way home from work can prevent your body from getting into the deep, restorative stages of sleep that it needs because caffeine stays in your body for a long time after you drink it. Therefore, studies recommend giving yourself a caffeine curfew of 8 or more hours before you go to bed to prevent caffeine interfering with your sleep.
  1. Calm your mind
    • It’s very common for people to think about what happened during their day once they lay down in bed and finally have some quiet time. This mental chatter becomes a problem when you do not have any effective strategies to calm your racing thoughts and allow your mind + body to drift off to sleep. A good strategy for quieting the mind is meditation or mindfulness. Taking 5-10 minutes before bed to do some deep breathing and meditation can help calm your busy mind and prevent you from getting stuck in your endless flow of thoughts. If you have never meditated before, some helpful guided meditation apps are Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer.


Siengsukon, C. F., Al-dughmi, M., & Stevens, S. (2017, May 18). Sleep Health Promotion: Practical Information for Physical Therapists. Retrieved April 1, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article/97/8/826/3831304?login=true

Stevenson, S. (2016). Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.

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Michaela Mattern, DPT