The Gift of Sleep

Sleeping Family

Give Yourself the Gift of a Good Night’s Sleep!

Americans are sleeping badly: 60 million of us have a chronic sleep disorder:

  • Sleep apnea*
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Narcolepsy
  • Insomnia
  • Periodic limb movement

*This can be related to the functional size of the airway, which can be influenced both by upper cervical spinal alignment and temporo-mandibular dysfunction (TMJ/TMD). 

That 60 million number represents one in five Americans.  But it doesn’t include those of us who are chronically sleep deprived – and the health implications of chronic sleep deprivation are deeply serious.

Some of you may be familiar with the case of a child that’s gotten on a bad sleep schedule: they’re cranky and fretful, and they are more susceptible to opportunistic infections and illness.  We grownups are no different!  Whether we like it or not, we need a routine that supports us.

Even one week of insufficient sleep can alter the genetic activity controlling our stress and immune system responses – which means we are losing the innate capacity of the body to repair and re-build.  For example, recent research suggests that the movement of cerebro-spinal fluid during sleep removes metabolic waste around the brain; this could have extraordinary implications for a number of conditions.


Here are some of the specific ways sleep deprivation affects your overall health:

Higher levels of anxiety
Higher rates of depression
Higher risk of physical injury
Disrupted estrogen production (increased risk of breast cancer)
Increased susceptibility to food cravings
Impaired memory & mental processing
Impaired white blood cell production
Higher risk of high blood pressure
Higher risk of stroke
Higher risk of heart disease
Higher risk of diabetes

That’s the why; what about the how?


Alcohol:  after the initial sedative effect of a “nightcap”, your body has to metabolize the alcohol; this makes for a restless night, and a harder day ahead.  If you’re waking between 1 and 3 am, your liver may be over-taxed.

Stimulants:  caffeine or nicotine close to bedtime stimulates the adrenal (“fight or flight”) system; what we need is to let that system calm down so the body can rest.  Unfortunately for us chocolate lovers, it also contains caffeine.

Exposure to natural light: your daily dose of sunshine is important at every age, as it helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle.Food:  a large meal close to bedtime forces your body to work on digestion rather than rest and repair; this problem is accentuated with heavy or spicy food.

Exercise: a vigorous workout is a great general health benefit, but it’s much better in the morning or early afternoon; the evening should be reserved for gentle yoga or an easy stroll.

Bedtime routine: your body needs to de-compress from the day; try to resolve any knotty problems well before bedtime.

Bedtime environment:  let your bedroom be about sleep (not television or computing!), with a firm comfortable bed and pillows*; it’s a bit like Goldilocks’ porridge: not too bright, not too hot…

*I always ask my patients to bring their pillow(s) into the office; you’d be surprised how many people are sleeping on a pillow that is part of their neck or back problem.  Both mattresses and pillows have a shorter useful lifespan than you might think.

If you’re curious about how much sleep you need, see this post for some age-appropriate guidelines.

A good night’s sleep is basic to our well-being.  None of us can function well, let alone flourish, without it.  Not only will it benefit you, but there’s a positive ripple effect on every single person you meet during the course of your day.  So this holiday, give yourself the gift that keeps on giving!

posted in Healthy Sleep

The Knack of the Nap

The concept of the Power Nap has been kicking around for quite a while.  Anyone who’s felt the benefits of a refreshing nap can testify to how energizing it can be.   But a nap can also leave you feeling groggy and disoriented.  How can we hit that sweet spot between resting and re-energizing?


Here’s a time-based metric to help you set your schedule for the perfect power nap:

10 – 20 minutes:  the shorter period limits you to the lighter (non-rapid eye movement) stages of sleep when theta waves predominate.  Not only do you get a boost in energy and alertness, it’s easy to wake up and get back into the groove of your day.

30 minutes:  a deeper stage of sleep begins after 20 minutes, with deep, slow delta waves starting to occur.  Unfortunately, it can take up to a half-hour to shake off the inertia and grogginess that occurs if you have to wake up at this stage.

60 minutes:  if you need a boost in your memory for facts, faces and names, this is the perfect nap for you.  It may be a little hard to wake up, but the deeper level of rest is usually worth it!

90 minutes:  by this stage, you’re experiencing alternating levels of lighter and deeper sleep (including rapid eye movement sleep, which is linked to dreaming).  This longer naptime not only improves your procedural memory, it enhances creativity and emotional resilience.

The 10 – 20 minute nap is a great option, if you can fit it into your working day, and the 60 minute nap is absolutely great for teenagers and students.  But some of us are not “natural nappers” or just don’t have a schedule that allows us to nap.  That’s when a really good night’s sleep is truly essential.  Look for more information on that next month!

A note on sleeping position: this is important, even for the shortest of catnaps!  You may fall asleep on your belly withSleeping-Teenager your head turned to the side, or while seated in a chair with your head falling down and over to your shoulder.  This is not just uncomfortable – it is damaging to your nervous system.

Prolonged rotation of the head creates a tugging, twisting pressure on your spinal cord that is destructive to your health and your future.  So if you need a nap, please lie down on your back or side with your head supported on a pillow, and get comfortable!

Here’s an extra tip on head position: if you typically poke your head forward above the chest, this also puts a constant pressure on your spinal cord.   Have a friend check the centerline of your ear relative to your shoulder; this is most obvious when you are looking at a computer monitor.  If your head is an inch forward of the center of your shoulder, please see your friendly local chiropractor for remedial care and postural re-training!

posted in Healthy Sleep


How much sleep do you really need?

Here are the averages for children:


16 hours (total day & night)

1 year

13 – 14 hours

5 years

10 – 12 hours

8 – 12 years

11 hours

12 – 18 years

8 – 9.5 hours*

*Some experts believe more sleep is needed during hormonally active growth spurts in adolescence.

Here are the averages for adults:

It varies!

6 – 10 hours (7 – 8 hours is enough for most adults)

How to make sure you get enough sleep:

Be active:  Regular exercise helps your body in multiple ways – including helping you rest!

Be consistent:  Just like consistency with exercise, going to bed at the same time “conditions” your body for sleep.

Be comfortable:  Set the thermostat at a temperature that feels good to you; make sure your bedding is comfortable & not too heavy; block any light filtering into your bedroom.

De-caffeinate:  Stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least 6 hours before bedtime. Nicotine & alcohol don’t help you sleep either.

De-compress:  Create a routine that allows you to unwind & prepare for sleep: it can be a hot bath, a cup of herbal tea, five minutes of mental “clearing” of the day’s events or just relaxing in bed before turning out the light.

De-clutter:  If you can get the television and the laptop out of the bedroom, do! If not, turn them off and take the time you need to mentally unwind before sleeping.

De-stress:  If you can’t sleep, get up & do something relaxing – have a light snack, drink some warm milk or listen to some quiet music for 15 or 20 minutes.

Sweet Dreams!

posted in Healthy Sleep