The most important health habit you can work on that you’re likely not, is Prioritizing Sleep. Click to tweet
Sleep is a foundational requirement for good health, and sleep problems will nearly always contribute to illness and disease.
If you're having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting deep, restorative sleep then it's likely you have a sleep dysfunction and possibly insomnia.
It is estimated that between fifty and seventy million Americans suffer from sleep disorders— but the majority don’t report sleep problems to their physicians, and most physicians don’t take the time to inquire. The pervasive lack of appreciation for the importance of sleep has serious implications for public health.
Achieving seven to nine hours of deeply restorative sleep is a good goal, and sleeping less than seven is inadequate for most people. However, sleeping more than nine hours is also associated with poor health, so there seems to be a “sweet spot.”
As humans, we should be awake during the day and asleep at night. Sleeping at night rejuvenates our bodies and minds and promotes healing. Being tired during the day and energized at night indicates a circadian rhythm dysfunction: your sleep cycle is out of sync!
In this article I'd like to discuss how poor sleep impacts your health and how chiropractic adjustments can help.
Poor Sleep Interferes with Every Biochemical Process in the Body
For example, while we sleep, our brain cells shrink by about 60 percent, which allows for more efficient waste removal. Sleep is also critical for balancing hormone levels, including melatonin. Melatonin is not
just a “sleep hormone” but also an anti-cancer hormone, inhibiting the proliferation of a wide range of cancers. Poor sleep also inhibits leptin, the satiety (“I’m full”) hormone that helps to prevent overeating.
Chronic sleep deprivation drives up inflammation (think joint pain, aches and stiffness), impairs blood sugar regulation, and raises the risk for many types of chronic disease including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found that inadequate sleep is associated with the four following health problems:
Weight gain: People sleeping less than six hours per night have higher body mass index. Poor sleep has been shown to cause increased insulin, decreased leptin (the satiety hormone), and increased ghrelin (the hunger hormone); inadequate sleep is now considered a risk factor for
obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Heart disease: There is growing evidence of a connection between obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease; poor sleep has immediate detrimental effects on blood pressure as well.
Mood disorders & Stress: Chronic sleep issues are associated with depression, anxiety, and mental distress and elevated cortisol levels.
Shortened life expectancy: Data from three large cross-sectional epidemiological studies revealed sleeping five hours or less per night increased the risk of death by roughly 15 percent.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.”
How to Start Prioritizing Sleep for Better Health
There are many factors to consider when optimizing sleep. However, the first step is going to start with the most important part of your body: The Nervous System. Why? Because the brain and nervous system control every single function of your body (including sleep regulation).
Remove Nervous System Interference
More specifically, achieving a good night of sleep requires balancing the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system includes all the nerve roots that exit your spine and connect to your vital organs including your hormone glands, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, gall bladder, intestines, kidney and sex organ. Again, this is exactly why taking care of your spine is so important.
The body manufactures specific hormones in order to facilitate both falling sleep and experiencing rest and healing. A great night of sleep becomes easier to achieve as sleep hormones become more balanced within the body. The autonomic nervous system controls vital involuntary functions like heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing.
Imbalances in the autonomic nervous system cause the majority of sleep deprivation issues.
How can you balance the autonomic nervous system?
It's a combination of eating well, moving the body, reducing emotional stress, and deep breathing.
One major factor that contributes to sleeplessness often goes unaddressed or remains unknown to those who badly want to experience a quality sleep rhythm.
Posture, bio-mechanical structure, and movement of the spine play a vital role in regulating hormone balance and fixing the problem that no drug or pill can resolve. The spine experiences an intimate connection to the autonomic nervous system through microscopic nerves and receptors densely populated in the small muscles, ligaments, and joints in and around the spine.
These nerves communicate with the brain on a second-by-second basis for an entire lifetime. Altered autonomic nervous system balance results from abnormal movement or misalignment in a person’s spine and posture. In this case, healing and rest become a major challenge when the body struggles to communicate.
Scientific research conducted as recently as 2015 proved that Chiropractic adjustments help remove interference from the autonomic nervous system, balance stress and sleep hormones, and improve the body’s ability to gain greater rest through better sleep.
Patients who received spinal adjustive care experienced improvement in stress hormone balance compared to patients who did not utilize Chiropractic care. In addition, many other health conditions improved due to the powerful impact that radiates from the spine following regular adjustments.
Better hormone balance within the central nervous system occurs with every adjustment. This is why millions of people experience improved rest and recovery as a side effect of pursuing a healthy spine and autonomic system.
Freedom from relying on dangerous drugs and side effects begins with unlocking the promise of better rest that already exists in the power of a healthy body. All you have to really do is make sure that nothing is interfering with that system.
Optimize Your Sleep Hygiene
Another important aspect to improving sleep cycles is to optimize your sleep hygiene. Here's a quick checklist of the things you should consider:
Sleep Window. Your “sleep window” is the ideal time to go to sleep, and for most, it is between 9 and 10: 30 p.m. It’s helpful to go to bed during this window every night (even on the weekends) to consistently get seven to nine hours of sleep. If you’re not asleep by 10: 30 p.m. on a consistent basis, you won’t be able to resolve your sleep issues.
Sleep Cycles. As adults, we have 1.5- or 2-hour sleep cycles while we sleep. This means if you fall asleep at 10:30 PM, you should stay asleep at least until 12:30, toss or turn and then sleep for another 1.5 to 2 hours. Pay attention to how you feel after awakening from 1.5-hour sleep cycles versus 2-hour sleep cycles and adjust your sleep and wake times accordingly.
Rise and Shine. This is simple. Just go to bed and wake up at the same time every morning and evening, including weekends.
Bedroom Activities. The bedroom should be reserved for only sleep and sex. Reading and watching TV ideally should be done in a different room. However, some people can read in their bedrooms before bed without an issue.
Exercise. Exercise can be beneficial for sleep. Some people sleep better when they exercise in the morning, whereas others sleep better exercising just before bed; experiment and do what works best
Foods. Unstable blood sugar levels can interfere with sleep. Consuming protein every two to three hours during the day and right before bed can help prevent a blood sugar dip at night, which can trigger cortisol surges that delay sleep or awaken you during the night. This is a great trick if you are waking between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.
Stimulants. Reduce (or eliminate) overall caffeine intake, and refrain from consuming coffee and other caffeinated beverages after about 9 a.m. Caffeine can last up to twenty hours in the body!
Electronics. Stop screen time one to two hours before bed. These devices emit blue light and trick the brain into thinking it is daytime.
Lighting. Your body knows what time it is based on its exposure to light. Make sure that your days are full of sunlight and your nights are absent of light. Sleep in complete darkness. This helps regulate the pineal gland, circadian rhythms, and melatonin production.
Comfort/Temperature. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Additionally, the body’s heat regulation system is strongly linked to sleep cycles. Keeping the bedroom between 60 and 69 degrees F is recommended. Taking a warm bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime is often helpful, so your core temperature is dropping about the time you fall asleep. Consider adding one or two cups of Epsom salt to the bath to get the relaxing effects of magnesium.
Stress. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine. Create a stress-free environment after dinner, which means no arguing or watching scary movies.
Pets. If pets interrupt your sleep, keep them out of the bedroom at night.
EMFs. Be mindful about electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in the bedroom, which can disrupt the pineal gland and its melatonin production. Ideally, turn off wireless routers, computers, and cell phones for the night. Even the electrical panels (fuses) that control the bedroom can be shut down at night to reduce electrical background “noise.”
In closing, sleep problems range from simply not getting enough sleep to experiencing poor quality, nonrestorative sleep. People typically under report sleep problems to their doctors, and doctors typically neglect to inquire.
A solid approach to treating sleep problems is to identify and then remove the causes. Causes of sleep issues can range from spine misalignments (nervous system dysfunction), poor sleep hygiene, nutritional and hormonal deficiencies, and chronic infections.
If you know someone who is suffering from sleep disturbance, be sure to share this article or have them contact us to see if we can help!