Is lack of sleep making you sick?

Wellness is catching on… Let’s talk about sleep.



Up-regulation: An increase in the expression of certain genes

Down-regulation: A decrease in the expression of certain genes


Sleep. The glorious 6-8 hour vacation our brain takes daily to drift away from consciousness and all voluntary muscle activity. It is during this wonderful vacation our body takes the time to shift towards a more anabolic state: the body is literally building up its immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.


What happens, though, when we do not get adequate sleep? It is already accepted that insufficient sleep plays a role in obesity, cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment.  If you’re experiencing some persistent muscle pain though, listen up! A recent study by Möller-Levet et al. (2013) found that one week of sleep restriction (5.7 hours a night) greatly impacts our gene expression. Is this a big deal? Well, all living creatures depend on genes for healthy functioning. The researchers found that 444 genes were down-regulated and 267 genes were up-regulated with one week of sleep restriction.  When analyzing the genes affected, it became evident that insufficient sleep negatively affects biological processes related to metabolic, inflammatory, immune and stress responses. As health professionals, you may hear us talk a lot about the inflammatory response and its relationship to pain and healing.


Could your lack of sleep be actually increasing your inflammation?


Even young adults under the age of 20 are subject to the consequences of insufficient sleep. A longitudinal study by Auvinen et al. (2010) found that insufficient quantity and quality of sleep at 16 years predicted neck pain and low back pain in both boys and girls by the age of 18. The researchers concluded that insufficient sleep is an independent risk factor or at least concomitant with neck and low back pain. It seems lack of sleep affects all generations.


Jen wrote a very interesting blog on the [definition of wellness], which I encourage all of you to read. Where does sleep fall into your definition of wellness? Sure, you may set aside some time to go to the gym and engage in an active lifestyle, but do you afford yourself the time to let your body build and heal itself? Reflect and ask yourself how many days of the week you let yourself sleep for 6 hours or less. You may be doing your body a disservice.


Recovering from a musculoskeletal injury, such as low back pain, can make sleep all the more troublesome. Finding a comfortable position may seem impossible. Make sure to talk to your health professional about your sleeping habits! They will be able to help you with positioning strategies which may reduce symptoms and make you less dependent on counting sheep. As a physiotherapist, I spend an hour assessing the primary concern of my client. This hour affords me the time to address all factors which could relate to that persistent musculoskeletal pain.  People are often surprised when I bring up sleeping habits and sleeping positions and this always surprises me!


Let’s spread the word on the role of sleep in achieving that overall state of “wellness”.


Until next time,


Bailey Gresham, RPT

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Treatment for Burnout

If you are experiencing Burnout, book an appointment with Apollo Physical Therapy. Our team of Ottawa physiotherapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and registered massage therapists can help. We have a convenient central location to serve you with ample parking and wheelchair access.