At The Chiro Clinic we are dedicated to getting you out of pain as quickly as possible and then keeping you out of pain and enjoying life to it’s best. We do that with a thorough assessment and the subsequent treatment combined with exercise and lifestyle advice provided by your chiropractor. This article discusses what I consider to be a fundamental component in your recovery, health and well being – sleep.

Why is sleep so important?

It is true to say that there is still much to be discovered about the detail of sleep, but it is universally accepted that it is incredibly important – as important to life as breathing, drinking and eating. An eminent neuroscientist describes it as “the single most important behavioural experience that we have”. The fact that we spend 36% of our lives asleep which equates to 32 years of a 90 year lifespan is indicative of it’s importance.

What happens when you sleep?

There are considered to be 5 stages (or levels) of sleep and we repeatedly move through these stages on an approximately 90 minute cycle. Different things are happening in your body and brain during those different stages, including:

  • Growth hormone is released
  • Blood flow to muscles increases
  • Blood pressure lowers
  • The brain is cleaned of the waste products from all it’s activity while awake (glymphatic system)
  • Regulation of the appetite hormones – ghrelin and leptin

What are the benefits of sleep:

  • Reduced perception of pain. The modern understanding of pain is that it is an experience and as such, you will feel less pain with a fresh, alert, brain than a tired brain
  • Improved repair and maintenance of the body and brain
  • Better memory
  • Improved attention, concentration and problem solving
  • Improved decision making, creativity and social skills

What can happen with not enough sleep:

  • More likely to be overweight
  • More likely to suffer chronic stress
  • Reduced effectiveness of the immune system and therefore higher probability of infection
  • Increased likelihood of diabetes type II and high blood pressure
  • Increased likelihood of mental health problems
  • Although no causal link yet established, a reduction in the cleaning of the brain is thought to be involved in the development of Alzheimers

So how much sleep do you need?

Like many things in life there isn’t a simple ‘one size fits all’ answer to that question. For adults, the average is 7-9 hours, but you’re not average right, you are a unique you! To work out what you personally need:

  • Think about your ‘sleep latency’ (how long it takes you to fall asleep). 15-20 mins is about right, less than this and you might need more sleep, longer than this and you may be getting too much sleep
  • If you frequently wake before your alarm, that can be an indication you’ve had enough sleep at that point (even if you doze back off). Experiment with getting up when you wake, you may actually feel better and more alert
  • If you are irritable, grumpy, need stimulants (caffiene, nicotine) through the day or feel a strong desire to sleep after lunch, these all indicate you need more sleep

Tips for a good nights sleep:

  • Recognise your chronotype and work with it. i.e. ‘larks’ like to be up early, are more productive in the mornings and go to bed earlier, ‘night owls’ get up later, are more productive later in the day and go to bed later
  • Avoid (or at least reduce) caffeine consumption after lunch, ideally none past mid-afternoon
  • Reduce your light exposure at least 30 minutes before going to bed – this includes the use of smart phones, tablets and computers. Free software such as f.lux can help if you really must look at that screen.
  • Make your sleep environment slightly cool and dark
  • In the morning, get plenty of light exposure(this re-inforces that you are now in the ‘wake state’)
  • Think ‘cycles’ not hours. Remember your sleep cycle is roughly 90 minutes (where you transition from light sleep to deeper sleep and back to light sleep). It is preferable therefore to sleep in cycles, where 5 cycles would be 7.5 hours sleep, waking from a light sleep stage rather than from a deep sleep stage
  • Keep a consistent wake time, even if circumstances mean you go to bed later than normal
  • Sleep position: Your chiropractor will give you specific advice for your personal circumstance but sleeping on your front isn’t recommended as it puts pressure on the structures in your neck. Scroll down to the video instruction on this page for more info

So sleep is pretty important! Get it right and in combination with the treatment, exercises and advice from your chiropractor you’ll get better quicker. Before researching the material for this article I already knew sleep was important, but I will openly admit I hadn’t realised quite how important! Sleep is not an indulgence, we shouldn’t just squeeze it in somewhere as a last thought. I would go as far as saying, you should plan your life (within reason, this isn’t an excuse to turn up to work late!) around your sleep rather than the other way around. All that’s required to make that happen is a change in attitude towards sleep, which won’t cost you a penny! We want you to get better as quickly as possible, getting your sleep right will be a huge step in doing that.

Useful info:

If you want to discuss anything further, your chiropractor will be happy to do so. Additionally, please find some links to further useful information below:

TED Talk – Why do we sleep?

TED Talk – One more reason to get a good night’s sleep

f.lux – free software for your electronic device

For athletes looking for that extra edge – sport sleep coach

sleepio – extra help for those that need it