35% of Americans report their sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair,” according to the National Sleep Foundation. Additionally, 20% of Americans reported that they did not wake up feeling refreshed on any of the past seven days. Overall lifelong health is closely connected to amount and quality of sleep, which affects reasoning, mood, body tissues, growth and stress hormones, immune system, breathing, cellular repair, and digestion. Getting a full night of quality sleep (4-5 REM cycles) is vital to our health and well-being. Sleep can be disturbed and affected by a number of factors, ranging from stimulant intake, to blue light exposure, to anxiety, to pain and injury. So how do you ensure you’re getting a good night’s rest?
While good posture is important when sitting and standing, it's even more important during sleep as the muscles and ligaments of your back relax while you sleep and need to be protected. Sleeping on your back puts approximately 50 pounds of pressure on your spine. Placing a pillow under your knees while lying on your back cuts the pressure on your spine roughly in half. Lying on your side with a pillow between your knees may also reduce the pressure on your back. Ensuring you have a supportive mattress can also go a long way toward easing aches and pains and preventing postural issues that can lead to pain and injury.
Many who experience sleep disturbances due to chronic pain turn to sleeping pills for help. However this can cause further problems down the line. Sedation is not sleep; sedatives have a different effect on the brainwaves. Chiropractic, acupuncture, or massage could be a viable alternative for pain relief. With a reduction in pain, normal sleep patterns will return.
If you find yourself tossing and turning due to anxiety or restless thoughts, massage or acupuncture could also be helpful in teaching the body to down-regulate, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, and working out muscle tension that may be inhibiting breath flow. Acupuncture in particular has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration. Practices like meditation and yoga are another great way to calm the body and mind. Or try starting an evening ritual like taking a warm bath, or mindfully preparing a cup of calming tea.
Our evening activities can have a big effect on the way we sleep. At least one hour before bed, minimize bright, artificial lights and screens. If you enjoy reading on a device, use a blue light filter to prevent disruption of your circadian rhythm. Avoid caffeine and nicotine within 8 hours of sleep, and heavy meals and alcohol within 2 hours.