Sleep is a crucial part of our well-being. More than just helping us feel rested and giving us the energy to get through the day, sleep also plays a role in healing, muscle recovery, and memory. While it’s normal to experience sleep problems from time to time, if you regularly suffer from poor quality or quantity of sleep, it could be impacting your physical and emotional health. Lack of sleep can contribute to the development of chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. It increases your risk of being involved in an accident, shortens your temper, and makes it difficult to concentrate on even the simplest of tasks.
Many people are surprised to learn that physical therapy can be beneficial in dealing with sleep problems. However, regular physical therapy sessions could help patients to find it easier to fall and stay asleep. One of the reasons for this is that physical therapy focuses on whole-body wellness. Improving your sleep cycle will improve your overall quality of life. Physical therapy exercise helps to regulate hormones, improve sleeping posture, improve your mood, and aid in sleep cycles.
Virtual physical therapy for improving sleep includes evaluating the joints and regions of concern to make sure that they can move freely and comfortably. This will help to ensure that you can lie comfortably, without pain or stiffness that could disrupt your sleep. Similarly, your physical therapist will be able to advise you about sleeping positions and pillow/neck support, to help you to put your body into the optimal position for sleep.
Physical therapy exercises are particularly good at reducing tension in the body which could be stopping you from sleeping. This tension is often a result of stress. Some studies indicate that adults who regularly sleep for less than 8 hours per night suffer from higher stress levels than those that sleep more. This means that sleep and stress can be directly linked, and a physical therapist can help with both.
Stress is extremely common, and most people will deal with some degree of stress on a daily basis. There are a huge number of different stress triggers, with work, money, relationships, family, and parenting being some of the most common reasons for someone to become stressed. In addition to the increase in working from home, screentime/smartphone/tablet use also impacts posture, mental/visual fatigue, and decreased socialization, which in turn impacts mental health and added stress. Stress is common in younger people as well. Common stress triggers in younger people include social media, bullying, mental health, and virtual learning. Episodes of stress can also be short-lived or last for prolonged periods of time. The latter is known as chronic stress and can have serious repercussions for our health. People who live with persistent stress are more likely to experience sleep problems and issues affecting their gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. They will also find it harder to cope with pain, particularly chronic pain that stems from illness or long-term health conditions. There is a range of ways in which physical therapy can help to reduce chronic stress. These include the following:
Exercise programs. Physical therapists can create exercise programs that are specifically designed to reduce stress levels. These usually involve a targeted stretching routine that will help to reduce the tension that is often held in the neck, back and shoulders as a result of stress levels. These exercises increase blood flow, help the muscles to relax, and in turn, help the stress to leave your body.
Adjust your posture. You may not realize it, but your posture could be contributing to your stress levels. Sitting in an uncomfortable position or standing without your weight being evenly distributed can make any tension in your body worse, and this could cause you to feel stressed. Your physical therapist will be able to explain the importance of good posture and make recommendations to improve yours so that your spine remains straight and not under unnecessary pressure.
Breathing techniques. Breathing may be an automatic action but breathing patterns can play a direct role in managing stress. This is because changing our pattern of breathing can actually lessen the ‘fight/flight response that often accompanies periods of high stress. By slowing our breathing and taking deeper, longer breaths rather than short, shallow ones, it is possible to decrease stress hormones within the body. Your physical therapist can show you how to adjust your breathing to create greater balance within the nervous system, reducing tension and stress.
For more information about physical therapy for sleep and stress management, or to schedule an appointment, please get in touch with our dedicated physical therapy team today.