Every evening you go into your bedroom, get into your cosy bed, close your eyes and drift into a state of unconsciousness and… in the morning, usually without any outside help, you wake from this unconsciousness, refreshed and ready to start your day! Isn’t amazing when you stop to think how automatic your body can put itself to sleep? It takes an incredible amount of co-ordination in your body for this to occur. As you are falling asleep, your blood sugar levels are regulated as is blood pressure, breathing, heart rate… and so on, when you wake up, the opposite needs to occur.
The part of your body that controls your sleep cycles is called the Circadian Rhythm and is the under control of the Central Nervous System. Chiropractors are specialists of the nervous system and our job is to keep it working as it should.
1. The Mid-Brain and Stress Response
The middle part of our brain is called the Limbic System, this is an area that controls memories, emotions and instincts. It also controls sleep. When we are stressed, the limbic system goes into overdrive and shuts down information transfer to rest of our brain because the brain thinks that your body is in danger, this is called the ‘fight and flight’ response. When your brain thinks that your body is in danger, it will not allow it to fall into a deep sleep.
Movement throughout the spinal column decreases your bodies stress response. When the joints throughout your spine moves, it sends signals and stimulation through the spinal cord (mechanoreception), which increases activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, which in turn, inhibits the Limbic System and stress centres.
You can increase movement through your spine by moving your body, but when individual segments of the vertebral column is blocked, movement of the spine will be inhibited, which will make it hard for the above process to occur. By adjusting these blocked areas (called vertebral subluxations), Chiropractors ensure that your brain can work in a more optimal manner.
2. The Brainstem
Another part of your nervous system that is very important for your sleep cycle is the brainstem. The brainstem is the connection between the brain and spinal cord and is where crucial bodily functions like breathing, heart rate and alertness are regulated.
The vertebrae around your brainstem are circular and provide protection for it. What this means is that a misalignment of the vertebrae, especially the atlas, can take it from being a protector to an irritant, applying pressure to the brainstem and inhibiting optimal function.
Studies have shown that one third of adults and 40% of children sleep better when they are under Chiropractic Care. What I think is important to remember is that people have trouble sleeping because their brain and in turn, their bodies, are acting as if it is in a state of constant threat. This causes an increase in a number of things like heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol and in the long term will make you sick.
When you think about it like this, your sleeping problem is not just a ‘sleeping problem’ but a sign that your whole body needs help.