We all need it and most of us don’t get enough of it. This can be particularly challenging around the times of year when we change the clocks. One night of inadequate sleep may not seem like the end of the world, however stacking these up can really chip away at our reserve and our health. Sleep deprivation has been associated with an array of health conditions. There are obviously going to be some factors that are out of your control, such as a restless infant, but focusing on those variables that you can control can still be beneficial. While we can’t add more hours to the day, there are some simple tips that may help us recharge our batteries.
Everybody is different, but most of us require a solid 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This requirement may change for us during different times of the year or depending on other factors such as our body fighting off various bugs or our various activity levels. Listen to your body and find what works best for you, but you need to give it the opportunity to get ample sleep and see when you wake up on your own. Did you know that there was once a time when humans didn’t have alarm clocks?
Comfort and Position
It goes without saying, but your bed and pillow need to be comfortable. Not only when you first lie down, but also throughout the night. You shouldn’t be forced to get out of bed in the morning because of aches or pains. Now, there are certain physical ailments that may need professional attention by your chiropractor or other health care provider. However, your sleeping surface should not be hindering your improvement. If your bed has mountains and valleys, flipping and/or rotating it may help in the short term, but you likely need a new bed. I often get asked about the ideal bed or pillow recommendation. It really depends. What works for you may not work for somebody else. Personally, I tend to prefer a more firm mattress and a thin, more flimsy pillow that I can mold to fit my position.
Which brings us to your sleeping position. The simple answer is that you want a neutral spine. Think about standing in an awkward position for hours on end. It may not feel that bad at first, but it is going to get uncomfortable in a hurry. Sleeping on your belly doesn’t really allow for a neutral spine unless you can lay face down and you don’t like to breathe. Those that do like to breathe then have to turn their head to one side which stretches the muscles on one side of the neck and shortens the muscles on the other side, along with causing a significant amount of rotation in the cervical spine for hours on end.
I recommend sleeping on your side or on your back. If you’re a side sleeper, you want the pillow to fill the gap between your head and the bed without it tipping down or up. That’s why I like a mold-able pillow so I can customize it to my body’s sleeping position. Then you also need to consider your spine position as if you were looking down at yourself from your ceiling. Many folks curl up in a fetal position, but this can lead to or exacerbate symptoms. Try to start in a position in which your spine is neutral. Most folks toss and turn during the night, but at least start in an ideal position and return to that if you wake up in a different position. I’m also a big fan of using pillows as tools to help you maintain that neutral spine. I highly recommend using a pillow between your knees if you’re sleeping on your side. This minimizes rotation of your top hip, which minimizes stress on your pelvis and low back. (Think less low back and hip pain.)
If you prefer to sleep on your back, again, pay attention to a neutral spine. A thick pillow in this position can cause your head and neck to flex forward. We get enough of this position during the day while we’re scrolling on our phone. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping without a pillow while on your back if you find it comfortable, especially if you’re dealing with neck pain. Otherwise, a thinner pillow may be more ideal than a thicker one. If your low back bothers while laying on your back, it may help to put a pillow under your knees as a short term solution. However, if this is the case, you may very likely benefit from stretching your quads and hip flexors (when you’re not sleeping, of course :).
You are going to sleep better if you get at least some moderate activity during the day. This can be in the form of a workout or even just being active throughout the day.
Light and Noise
You want your room as dark as possible. Avoid nightlights and try to minimize the light from an alarm clock or other electronic devices as much as possible. Consider leaving your phone out of the bedroom at night unless you need to be on call or on hand in case of an emergency. In that case, try to silence any notifications. Blackout shades are a nice option if there are outside lights.
Blue light from screen use before bed can also drastically disrupt our circadian rhythm. Try to minimize using screens as much as possible in the 1-2 hours leading up to bedtime. Use the blue light filter setting on your phone or download an app such as Twilight. We install a free program called f.lux on our computers. This program adjusts the amount of blue light filtered based on your computer’s latitude and the time of year (so based on the sun). Did I mention these things are free? You can also purchase a pair of blue light blocking glasses. I actually use them throughout the day while on the computer to help minimize eye strain. I really like the pair I currently have from Quay.
People tend to sleep better when their room is cooler. There is obviously a point of being too cold, but in general you don’t want it too warm. Find what works best for you. We set our thermostat at 61 at night during the winter.
Caffeine is best consumed earlier in the day so its lingering effects don’t affect our ability to fall or stay asleep. If you’re waking up hungry, you may want to try a higher protein snack closer to bedtime. If you suffer from digestive issues, you may want to avoid consuming anything after dinnertime. Pay attention to how you respond and see what works best for you.
I’m not going to do this topic any justice, because it could be a book by itself. Especially given our current world situation. However, it is at least worth mentioning. Pay attention to prayer, meditation, hobbies, laughter, play, music, whatever it is that brings you joy and helps decrease your stress. Don’t bottle it up. Way easier said than done… I’m all too aware, but being aware is the first step.
If you try some of these simple tips and you’re still struggling with sleep issues, please reach out to us with any questions. We can provide you with some personalized recommendations or even suggest some functional tests that can provide deeper insight into your body’s processes. There can be some personalized lifestyle modifications or supplements that can make a big difference. However, what works for some may not work for all.
Kyle Boland, DC