The Interconnectedness of Our Wellbeing

By Adarsh Shah


Although meteorologists tell us that we’ve had a warmer winter than normal, it feels like we’ve endured our fair share of polar vortexes this year.  Thankfully, as we gather with friends and family, our health stories are less about COVID-19, but more about the usual slips and falls that accompany icy conditions.

In fact, injuries at this time are quite common. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), there are almost 10,000 slips and falls in Canada each year during winter, whether it’s slipping on an icy sidewalk, twisting an ankle skating, or coming down hard from an epic snowboarding jump.

I for one have succumbed to injury this winter: For me, it was poor conditions on the ski hill, and an awkward turn that led to a fracture and a torn ACL in the knee.  Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot on how to speed up my recovery and regain my strength.  In this article, we will explore the ways in which good sleep helps the body heal.


Dealing with Injury

There are some positives to having this injury: Besides being able to impress everyone with my newfound knowledge of knee anatomy, I am also becoming a pro at using crutches and have finally found a use for those frozen peas that have been in the freezer for months.

The pain is reducing with each day.  However, I’ve discovered that a serious injury is not only disruptive to your body, but also to your mental well-being and the people around you: whether you’re a parent, caregiver or a member of a team at work.  So a rapid recovery is not only important for physical health, but also for your mental health and your relationships.

Sleep plays a vital role in the healing process. It is a time when the body can rest and repair itself.


Physiological Healing Processes During Sleep

During sleep, several important physiological processes occur that are critical for healing. One of the most important of these processes is the release of hormones that promote growth and repair. While your pituitary gland releases growth hormone in pulses throughout the day and night, the peaks occur at night during sleep.  Growth hormone helps repair damaged tissue and build muscle, both of which are important during the rehab and pre-rehab periods of healing to prevent atrophied muscles.

Growth hormones play an additional role: A 2010 study by sleep experts at the University of Tubingen, Germany discovered that improved sleep enhances the production of growth hormone, which in turn boosts the immune system.  While you’re sleeping, cells in your immune system release a type of protein called cytokines.  A cytokine called interleukin-12 (IL-12) peaks during the nocturnal period of sleep and significantly helps to reduce inflammation and infection. Without enough quality sleep, our bodies will not produce the optimal amount of hormones and cytokines needed to support the body’s natural healing processes.


Give Yourself a Break

When you sleep, you give your heart and bones a break.  Within about five minutes after you fall asleep, your heart rate begins to slow, and your blood pressure drops.  Allowing the heart and blood vessels to rest gives strength to your body to heal during the day and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.  

In case of a fracture, sleep is also the time new bone can begin to build.  Your body will build a type of scaffolding around the fracture from which it will build new bone and type 3 collagen.  After a good night’s sleep, your body will have rested your organs and produced the right hormones and proteins to repair your injury.


Use Sleep Accessories to Optimize Healing

In addition to getting adequate sleep, using the right sleep accessories – like an adjustable bed or a pressure-relieving pillow – can reduce pain and support the body’s healing processes. 

Adjustable beds are designed to support the body in a variety of positions.  Today’s adjustable beds have as many as five different motors to customize your body’s position. For example, using a lumbar booster provides additional back support, especially when you’re stuck in bed and have to sit up.  In addition, elevating both the head and legs, often called the zero-gravity position, helps to reduce swelling and promote circulation.

The right pillow can also play an important role in supporting the body’s healing processes. A pillow that supports the neck and head properly can help to reduce tension in the shoulders and promote better spinal alignment.  A good sleep retailer will be able to fit you to the right pillow no matter what position you sleep in or broadness of your shoulders.  Choosing the right pillow will help to keep you sleeping longer and deeper without interruption, encouraging the body’s healing process.


Staying Positive

However, optimizing our body’s physiological processes isn’t the only health area we should monitor.   A serious injury can cause depression and anxiety for a range of reasons.  Reduced mobility can often stop us from doing the things that raise our spirits, whether it’s our regular exercise routine, or socializing with friends and family.  And, if your workplace doesn’t allow a remote-working option, you can lose the social connection of seeing colleagues daily, and possibly a portion of your income.

Sleep plays a key role in reducing stress and promoting mental wellbeing.  During sleep, cortisol levels decrease, helping to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm and relaxation. Additionally, sleep helps improve mood and cognitive function, promoting overall mental wellbeing.


The fact is that recovering from a physical injury isn’t easy.  Sleep is an essential component of the recovery process.  It is a time when the body can repair and restore itself, supporting the immune system, reducing stress and inflammation, and promoting mental wellbeing. I might not be back on the ski hills this season, but I’m making sleep a priority to support my body’s natural healing processes, and to keep myself positive.