Sleep Physiology, Home Sleep Tips, and How Chiropractic Can Help
Don’t we just love sleep? Being able to relax on a soft bed, feel comfortable, muscles relaxing, and drift off into our sweet dreams.
If only that happened so easy.
For many of us, we have trouble sleeping at night. It can range from periods of ‘overactive minds’, too much mental and emotional distress, not feeling drowsy, neck pain and shoulder discomfort, or the dreaded insomnia. If you notice a constant sleep difficulty pattern, or reoccurring poor night's sleep, it can be hard to identify what the problem is!
In this article, we’ll focus on the common patterns of sleep difficulties we see in our clinic, what’s occurring with your body during sleep, what happens if you aren’t getting enough good quality sleep, and how certain Chiropractic care can help!
Sleep Physiology - 101
We spend roughly ⅓ of our life sleeping, and for good reason. A good night's rest is required for a healthy body and mind. During sleep, tissue growth and repair occurs, neurons in your brain better re-organize and contribute to memory consolidation (long term storage), it protects against insulin resistance, and helps foster a strong immune system.
Not sleeping properly, via less hours sleeping or poor quality (waking up at night, tossing and turning) can lead to mood swings, anxiety, poor memory and concentration, weight gain, lowered immune system, chronic diseases like heart disease, and even early mortality! It is recommended to sleep 7-9 hours, with less hours required (but still recommended) as you grow older.
To REM or Not To REM
During sleep, we have N-REM (non rapid eye movement) stages 1-4 which lead to the widely known REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Throughout the night, your N-REM and REM cycle back and forth, with REM occurring for about 25% of a 90 minute cycle. Each cycle creates progressively more deep REM sleep, so cutting your hours short will limit how much REM sleep time you get.
N-REM sleep is also critically important, as more slow delta brain waves are produced and N-REM is when the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bones, and increases muscle cell turnover.
Deep Sleep Gives A Deep Clean For Your Brain
“We know sleep is really important for brain health, and waste clearance is probably a key reason why.”
During N-REM, what seems to happen is the slow waves alters your brains blood flow to reduce the volume of blood in your head. What replaces it is your CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid). Your CSF bathes all of your nerves and provides protection, nourishment, and waste removal not possible by your vascular (blood) system.
So.. if you’re not getting proper sleep, your brain isn’t getting cleaned as well, and you won’t feel as refreshed in the morning. If this goes on for years, we can start to see other health problems arise.
Consequences Of Poor Quality Sleep
Mood changes, memory issues, low morning energy, trouble thinking and concentrating are only the surface problems we often see and feel with poor sleep. Science has also found problems with:
lowered immune function
high blood pressure
growth hormone (Gh) production
lower sex drive
What Can You Do At Home For Better Sleep?
1. Stop Being Blue
The biggest aggravator we find with our patients is the prevalence of blue light late into the evening.
Your brain is smart, and it senses different wavelengths in the light your eyes pick up. During daytime and twilight, your eyes detect a larger amount of blue light which can boost attention, mood, and reaction times. Unfortunately, every computer screen, phone, tablet, and TV emit a lot of blue light, so using these within an hour before bed can be troublesome. Blue light also limits your melatonin hormone production, or your ‘sleepy hormone’, making it harder to fall asleep.
Advice: Lower the lights in your room 1-2 hours before bed, try to avoid screen time, and know that while changing the monitor color to red or another shade may help curb the effects, it may still be disruptive to your sleep cycle.
2. Limit Long Naps
The science on napping benefits are mixed, but taking naps longer than 2-3 hours can often change your internal clock too much, making deep and restful night-time sleep difficult.
Also, naps after 3pm are more likely to affect your sleep cycle, so make sure to nap in the morning or take a noon time siesta rather than later.
3. Change Your Bed and Pillow
While not always necessary, there are a few instances where your bed may not fit your body type. An old mattress may also be too soft and allow your body to sink in too much, causing discomfort and joint strain. For a more detailed approach, check out our article on it here! How to Choose Your Best Mattress and Pillow
4. Don’t Use Your Bed As A Workstation
While this was more easily prevented before our ‘circuit breaker’ measures, most people are still working from home and often in bed! Unfortunately for many, your work stress can follow you to your bed if you don’t separate those two environments. So instead of getting tired, you’re thinking about work. Make sure to work elsewhere at an ergonomic table, or if possible somewhere outside for a bit of fresh air!
5. Get Into a Normal Routine
Binge watching a Netflix show until 11:30 pm or scrolling through Instagram in bed may sound like a relaxing activity, but it takes time to get the body prepared for rest and shut-down time. Give your brain a fighting chance by sleeping at the same times weekdays and weekends, and not oversleeping significantly on the weekends. Remember, sleeping 6 hour weekdays creates a sleep debt can’t be caught up by 12 hours Saturday and Sunday.
6. Exercise… But Not At Night
This is a general rule, and will apply differently to everyone. On average, people who workout a 1-2 hours before sleep don’t give their body enough time to calm down and relax. While exercise itself can tire you out, and is a very important factor to curing insomnia, make sure you are applying it appropriately. Often people will ‘use’ exercise to exhaust themselves before sleep, but there is early evidence that it may not allow for as much deep sleep to occur.
How Chiropractic Care Can Help
Chiropractors work with your spine and joints in order to affect the Nervous System, which is your body's highway of information. We improve Central Nervous System function by clearing out mechanical and neurological blockages, which we call Vertebral Subluxation, throughout the body in various ways.
There can be a lot of interference along your spine and other joints that can contribute to sleep difficulties. From the most simple example, if you have joint pain and stiff muscles, Chiropractic adjustments can provide fast pain relief and easier mobility, which can help with a comfortable sleep.
The body also has to down-regulate it self to become calm and relaxed before sleep. Often having nervous system irritation makes that process more difficult. Adjustments can help clear out these neurological obstructions and help develop better sleep health and hygiene.
The Upper Cervical Dysfunction
The largest focus for patients with sleep difficulties is the upper cervical area, involving your occiput, C1, and C2 joints. While all seven cervical vertebrae(C1-C7) are important, the upper neck is much more neurologically far-reaching. Your C1 vertebrae is nicknamed ‘the atlas’ in reference to a sculpture where the greek titan Atlas is shown holding the world on his shoulders. The articulations of C1 help to hold the head in a neutral and strong position, but when there are small misalignments from poor posture and old injuries, this can offset the delicate balance. As these upper cervical joints are the first areas that can interfere with nerve flow exiting the brain, correcting their alignment is an important focus.
Alternative Chiropractic Techniques
At Align Chiropractic, we also practice S.O.T., or Sacro-Occipital Technique, which excels in checking patterns often missed by other general Chiropractors. Most notably, the focus on detecting and restoring proper C.S.R.M. (Cranio-Sacral Respiratory Mechanism) helps to balance the Nervous System in a very powerful way.
As mentioned before, CSF is responsible for clearing out waste from your brain and it is very active during sleep.
“CSF maintains the electrolytic environment of the central nervous system (CNS), influences systemic acid-base balance, serves as a medium for the supply of nutrients to neuronal and glial cells, functions as a lymphatic system for the CNS by removing the waste products of cellular metabolism, and transports hormones, neurotransmitters, releasing factors and other neuropeptides throughout the CNS.”
With gentle pressure, palpation, and a few breaths, we can help to reset poor CSF rhythms and patterns. We can also use specific Cranial work involving light pressure to mobilize parts of the skull that may be restricted and affecting CSF patterns.
Sleep is unfortunately very complicated. There are many factors you can improve in your daily life that severely affect your quantity and quality. Always start with those and set yourself up for success. If you’re still finding sleep difficult, come in for a spine check-up to see if your case is right for Chiropractic.
For more information, or a free consult to see if your case is right for us, email us at