The “treatment”? A night of quality, deep sleep.
Unfortunately, sleep in America is a total nightmare. According to sleep scientist and author of “Why We Sleep”, Dr. Matthew Walker, the average amount of sleep American adults get a night is around six hours and 31 minutes (in 1942, it was 7.9 hours). Interestingly enough, humans are the ONLY species on the planet to deprive themselves of sleep for no clear or beneficial reason.
Think about that for a second.
Why do we do this to ourselves when the benefits are so obvious? Many chalk it up to the busy lifestyles that we are consumed by each day. The culture of “busy” is often glorified while sleep and rest are looked down upon. But sleep is the foundation for optimal health and cognitive function. I often tell patients that if they have the choice between working out or sleeping, I tell them to sleep. Sleep gives time for our body’s systems to rest, heal, and recalibrate.
So how can you start finding those oh-so-sweet dreams every night? Here are three things you can start doing right away to help improve your sleep and get you on your path towards consistent nights of quality, deep sleep.
1. GET MORNING LIGHT
Go outside first thing every morning for at least 5-10 minutes to expose your eyes to natural sunlight (even if the sun is behind the clouds). This will help support and stabilize your circadian rhythm (your body’s master clock), sending signals to generate alertness and keep us awake and active throughout the day. At night, it initiates the production of melatonin (hormone that promotes sleep) and keeps transmitting signals that help us STAY asleep.
2. REDUCE SCREEN TIME & LIGHT EXPOSURE
Blue light (from phones, computers, & tablets) suppresses melatonin production and STOPS it from being released causing us to stay alert throughout the night. An hour or so before your bedtime, switch your phone to Night Mode. This will change your screen color to a red tint (vs. the blue light). Here’s a link to instructions on how to quickly set this up on your iPhone. Try to keep your bedroom screen-free. Or, at least put your phone on airplane mode and replace scrolling time with reading or journaling to help your mind wind-down. The goal is to give your body the correct signals that night is coming, NOT that it needs to stay alert and awake.
3. FIND THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE
Our central nervous system needs to drop two to three degrees from our baseline in order to get into our deepest sleep, as Dr. Matthew Walker shares on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Try adjusting your thermostat to bring down the temperature in your room. Another great way to help you wind down and decrease your internal body temperature is to take a warm bath before bed. This may sound counterintuitive but hear me out. When you take a hot bath, vasodilation occurs (this is a natural process that increases blood flow and decreases blood pressure). While you are enjoying your bath, blood rushes to the surface of your body. When you get out of the bath, a massive dump of body heat occurs causing your core body temperature to drop.
So, why does a chiropractor care about sleep?
Most people view chiropractors as only “back pain” doctors, but that's only partially true. Sure, we help relieve back pain but at the heart of it, chiropractors are nervous system doctors. And one of the main benefits of chiropractic is the balancing of the nervous system. Many patients of mine comment on how they sleep so much better after an adjustment. Why is that? Due to our high-paced, go-go-go lifestyle, most of us are stuck on overdrive with the sympathetic side of the nervous system turned on, aka "fight or flight" mode. Chiropractic care helps tone down the sympathetic side of the nervous system and activates the parasympathetic, "rest and digest", side–thus helping people sleep better.
Looking for more tips? Leave a comment below with any questions or let us know what works for you! Improving your sleep can be a process but it’s worth it to wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
By Dr. Kevin Clark
About the Doc
Dr. Clark is the owner and head chiropractor of Clark Chiropractic in Darien, IL. He is a 4th-generation chiropractor with a passion for wellness. He enjoys researching the latest ways to increase longevity, cooking with his family, spending time outside, and helping patients live an active lifestyle.