Updated: Feb 23
We’ve all been there, tossing and turning until who knows how late into the night, unable to find a comfortable position, mind racing and no sleep in sight, only to wake up the next day completely exhausted and drained as if you had not slept a wink at all.
Maybe it’s pain, stress like a work deadline, a newborn baby, or even the excitement of Christmas day or something else fun to come, but chronic restless sleep in a major problem for the human brain and body.
A study published in Nature and Science of Sleep found “numerous factors contribute to sleep disruption, ranging from lifestyle and environmental factors to sleep disorders and other medical conditions.” The authors also note “Sleep disruption is associated with increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (emphasis mine), metabolic effects, changes in circadian rhythms, and proinflammatory responses.” Of course, any mention of the nervous system gets me excited as a neurologically-based upper cervical chiropractor, and I often see my practice members sleep quality and sleep quantity lacking when they start but improve with care, often times after a single adjustment. Sometimes improved sleep is the first benefit of care they receive before they are even feeling better! I've even had "wellness" practice members with no chronic conditions or aches and pains notice they are sleeping much better.
We all know sleep is important and that adults should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep, and everyone should at a minimum be getting 7 hours of sleep to properly rest and repair the body and brain. Less than 7 hours of sleep, or just disrupted or poor quality sleep, even in the short term produce negative consequences such as:
· increased stress responsivity
· somatic pain
· reduced quality of life
· emotional distress and mood disorders
· cognitive, memory, and performance deficits
The long-term consequences of sleep disruption include:
· cardiovascular disease
· weight-related issues,
· metabolic syndrome,
· type 2 diabetes mellitus
· colorectal cancer
None of those conditions sound like much fun, and only make sleeping more difficult. Unfortunately for the chronic restless sleeper, drugs are often the only solution provided to them. Ambien is one of the drugs I see prescribed most often. We’ve probably all seen the commercials, but have you seen the side effect list? Side effects include:
· Daytime drowsiness
· "Drugged" feeling
· Loss of coordination
· Stuffy nose
· Nasal irritation
· Dry mouth
· Sore throat
· Stomach upset
· Muscle pain
· Ataxia (balance problems)
· Visual changes
….and that is just the most common of side effects. It doesn’t sound like a great trade-off to me.
Many people are aware of the side effects or just don’t like the idea of taking drugs. There are many natural options and habits you can form to sleep better as well, unfortunately, these options are often not prescribed by primary care doctors. To see some great ways to sleep better naturally check out this great site to learn some great tips and tricks. I recommend all of them... on top of ensuring you have a well-aligned spine and optimally functioning nervous system, which is why I'm talking about sleep in the first place.
Just last week Ken started care in our practice, he was concerned with his neck pain and back pain that was getting much worse in the past 3 months. He had previously however been struggling with sleep and restless leg syndrome for almost a decade and had to take Ambien nightly to get undisrupted sleep. I saw a direct connection to his ability to sleep and the alignment of his spine and the results of his neurological evaluation. Ken was stuck in sympathetic overdrive, where his body was unable to put the brakes (parasympathetic nervous system) on at night (or even during the day for that matter), this also inhibits the healing response in the body as the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response, where the priority is pure survival, not resting, digesting, and healing which is the responsibility of the parasympathetic nervous system. You really need the perfect blend of both to be functioning optimally, too much of one or the other is not good for your health and wellbeing.
I’m usually pretty confident practice members who report disrupted sleep will see changes throughout care, but it is impossible to predict how soon and to what extent. However, in Ken’s case, the changes were practically instantaneous. On his third visit after a week of care and only one adjustment, Ken reported he had not had to take Ambien for 6 nights and his restless leg was gone! I mean WOW! The human body constantly amazes me. We still have a lot of work to do on Ken, but I know without a doubt his body is functioning at a more optimal level, allowing it to go through the natural physiological processes that keep it healthy, healing, and happy!
Sleeping disturbances and sleep quality and quantity are affected by many things, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the nervous system is often a culprit. If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep and looking for a natural solution to their condition(s), I highly encourage you to get your nervous system evaluated and your spine checked for misalignments, it could be just a simple adjustment to get you back on track and sleeping like a baby again!
PS. Let me save you a lot of time and money and let you know it is not very likely that your mattress or pillow is the culprit unless they are over a decade old. Sadly I see many people spend thousands of dollars on the next fancy pillow or mattress, only for the conditions to stay the same or return shortly after switching. If you insist on going that route first check out sleeplikethedead.com for a great nonbiased consumer review of all the products on the market right now.