I just purchased a sleep tracker. After watching my wife use a Fitbit for months, I was curious about my data so purchased an Oura Ring to compare. One thing that’s clear is I do better when I’m on a regular sleep routine and I geek out with the numbers.
Staying up late and sleeping in may be a common habit for many Americans during a work-from-home environment, but it could be harmful to our health. A study published this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology comprised of nearly 2,000 people whose sleep patterns were tracked over three years found that those with irregular sleep schedules had a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease.
The goal is to maintain good sleep habits even amidst unpredictable work and life schedules, especially during this stressful shelter in place period. Although doctors of chiropractic (DCs) are focused on neuro-musculoskeletal disorders, we care for the whole patient, which means assessing their sleep quality and habits, too, and designing comprehensive care plans that support a patient’s waking and sleeping hours.
A greater risk of cardiovascular disease is not the only negative health consequence of poor sleep. The link between inadequate sleep and the increased risk of diabetes and other health problems is well established. More recent health risk examples include:
- A study published this year in Neurology found that even just one night of poor-quality sleep in healthy, young men increased the levels of tau — a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease — in their blood compared to after their normal sleep.
- Researchers publishing in PLoS One found that poor sleep likely exerts a strong negative effect on gut health/microbiome diversity, which is associated with Parkinson’s disease and autoimmune diseases, as well as anxiety and depression.
Men who slept less than five hours per night reportedly felt less full after a high-fat meal than when they had a good night’s sleep and also stored more fat when sleep-deprived, according to a study published late last year.
“We are learning more every year about how important consistent, adequate sleep is to our long-term health and how it affects our daily lives,” said Sherry McAllister, DC, executive vice president of F4CP. “That is why doctors of chiropractic always ask their patients about any sleep challenges and then help them identify the health and lifestyle issues that can be corrected to promote a regular schedule of restorative sleep.”
Creating Good Sleep Habits
As chiropractors we pursue a drug-free approach to pain management by bringing the body back into alignment, recommending exercises and other activities to help patients regain their normal range of motion and flexibility while relieving pain or discomfort that could be interfering with consistent sleep patterns. Other factors that may improve sleep quality include:
- Weighted blankets. I love mine. These were originally used to help some people feel calmer and more comfortable, think ThunderShirt. Occupational therapists have utilized weighted blankets for years for grounding patients, helping them relax and self-soothe. These blankets provide tactile sensations including warmth, pressure, and a feeling of being held. Studies have shown the use of weighted blankets can be an effective, complementary, drug-free intervention for people with chronic insomnia.
- Blue light. Electronic devices emit light of a blue wavelength, which may trick your brain into thinking it is still daytime. Discontinue use of electronics 1-2 hours before you sleep, and put your phone on do not disturb while you sleep. Boundaries can help you in all areas of your life, but in the wake of a stressful week, they are especially helpful in quelling anxiety and enabling a good night’s sleep. Most phones allow you to set a timer to change the display before bed, take advantage of that setting as a cue to put the device away.
- Back or side position. Harmful sleep positions create pressure on your neck and back, causing pain and an unhealthy spinal alignment. Sleeping on your back or your side is best to support a healthy posture while sleeping on your stomach can contribute to poor posture and back pain. In addition to helping manage back and neck pain that may be affecting your sleep or influencing your sleep position, we can identify the ideal position based on your physiology and associated health issues. To find out more watch our video on this topic.
- Mattress and pillow. Most people sleep on the same mattress for too long. In fact, a study of 55 sleepers found that replacing their nearly 10-year-old mattress with a new model reduced their back and shoulder pain while improving sleep comfort and quality. In addition, sleeping with your neck in a neutral position supported by a pillow that fills the space between your neck and the mattress is recommended. Placing another pillow under the knees if sleeping on your back or between your knees if on your side will help maintain the normal curve of your spine. Watch our video:
“With all of the overwhelming research demonstrating sleep’s health benefits, anyone experiencing disrupted or inadequate sleep for an extended period, for whatever physical or emotional causes, should seek help from a healthcare provider to help them find a solution,” Dr. McAllister said. “Not only could correcting the cause of the disturbance improve their rest, but increased sleep quality and quantity will help them feel much better as well.”
If sleeping is still difficult or causing you low back, neck, or shoulder pain please schedule a complimentary consultation. Let’s figure out if there is something else going on such as jaw clenching or imbalances in the muscles or spine which can be more noticeable when you are not weight-bearing and relaxed.