Are Your Sleeping Habits Killing You?

It is estimated that nearly 35% of Americans classify their quality of sleep as “poor” or “fair”. Additionally, over 50 million Americans have been categorized as having a chronic sleep disorder. Researchers have begun to compare the detriments of sleep deprivation to that of overeating and lack of physical activity. While it is likely that most of us have experienced the effects of short-term sleep deprivation, chronic sleeping problems can lead to an array of health issues such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and in some cases, early mortality.

Sleep Deprivation and Pain

Although there is a clear correlation between sleep deprivation and pain, researchers still aim to determine the specific relationship between the two. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study to examine the relationship between chronic pains and sleep disorders. The results suggest that nearly one in four individuals with chronic pain have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder compared to the national average of one in sixteen. In general, individuals who experience pain feel more worry and less control over their sleeping habits which can lead to an increase in sleep sensitivity. Those who experience heightened sleep sensitivity are more aware of environmental disturbances throughout the night such as noise, light, and temperature, and therefore would likely experience more awakenings throughout the night, as well as less time spent in deep sleep. Visit The National Sleep Foundation’s website to learn more about sleep disorders, pain, and how it relates to you and your health.

Sleep Deprivation and Athletic Performance

It may be obvious that sleep deprivation hinders athletic performance, although the reasons why are still being researched. One study conducted at The University of Chicago Medical School found that when participants slept just 4 hours a night (compared to 6, 8, and 12), they experienced:

  • Increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone)– an increase in cortisol can interfere with the body’s recovery while sleeping, particularly in regards to growth and repair of new, healthy tissue. This may cause athletes to become more prone to injury, as well as slow the process of building strength.
  • Decreased efficiency metabolizing glucose – glucose and glycogen are the primary sources of energy for endurance athletes. Athletes who experience chronic sleep deprivation likely store glycogen slower than those who don’t, leading to quicker fatigue and increased ratings of perceived exertion.

If you suffer from difficulty sleeping, whether falling asleep or staying asleep, there are certain things you can do to promote a better night’s sleep.

Eliminate Disturbances

  • Screen time – our sleep cycle is regulated by our 24 hour biological clock, called circadian rhythm; daylight, as well as darkness, is used to keep our circadian rhythm on track. Additional light from other sources, particularly blue light from screens, disrupt our internal clocks by stimulating the brain and inhibiting the production of melatonin. Avoid screen time within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime. Learn more about the detrimental effects of blue light in the Harvard Health Letter: Blue light has a dark side
  • Alcohol –although alcohol is a temporary sleep aid, when it is processed through the body it stimulates the brain, which can cause awakenings throughout the night. Keep alcohol intake to less than 2 drinks within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Caffeine – avoid caffeinated beverages and other stimulants within 5 hours of bedtime.
  • Naps – sleeping during the day interferes with our circadian rhythm. If you needing a nap, keep it short and early in the day.
  • Old mattresses and pillows—a mattress should be replaced every 8-10 years to ensure proper support.

Take Advantage of Natural Sleep Aids

  • Keep your room cool – the ideal temperature for our body during sleep is between 66 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Maintain a schedule – going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day helps to keep our circadian rhythm on track.
  • Exercise – expending energy during the day increases the amount of time spent in a deep sleep at night. During deep sleep, our body works to boost immune function as well as regulates stress and anxiety. Studies show that just 10 minutes of light-to-moderate aerobic exercise each day can improve quality of sleep.
  • Meditate—meditation has been shown to significantly increase melatonin levels while reducing stress and anxiety.

Pay Attention to Sleep Positioning

Have you ever woken up from a night’s sleep with a crick in your neck? If so, you have experienced a negative side effect from improper sleep posture. Optimal sleep position includes maintaining a neutral spine.

Back sleepers—place a pillow underneath your knees to provide more support for the lower back. Additionally, use a thin pillow underneath the neck to maintain a neutral alignment of the spine. Pillows that are too firm or too high will cause the neck to stay in the flexed position throughout the night, which can cause stiffness and decrease joint mobility.

Side sleepers—place a firm pillow between your knees to maintain proper hip alignment throughout the night. For your neck pillow, try a memory foam or cervical pillow that will better form to the shape of your neck.

Stomach sleepers—sleeping on your stomach is not an ideal position as it causes more strain on the lower back by forcing the spine into a slightly extended position. It also requires the neck to rotate completely to one side which can cause stiffness and decrease joint mobility.

Your sleeping position can affect your overall posture, read about more good habits for good posture here.

Seek Chiropractic Care

At HealthFirst Spine & Wellness, we can help improve your quality of sleep by decreasing symptoms associated with pain and discomfort. Following a comprehensive evaluation, we will aim to correct the root of the problem using a variety of therapeutic techniques including:

  • Spinal adjustments
  • Soft tissue therapies
  • Corrective exercises
  • MyACT (myofascial acoustic compression therapy) – our noninvasive, advanced technology used to treat both acute and chronic conditions. Many individuals with acute pain feel better following a single session and typically, 3-5 sessions is necessary to experience lasting improvements.
  • Cold laser therapy – a noninvasive technique used to expedite the healing process of affected tissues using a laser beam.

If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment with Austin chiropractors, contact Healthfirst Spine & Wellness at 512-488-4558.