Why it’s important to discuss sleep with patients, even if briefly, and measure sleep quality to see how patients are faring
As humans, we spend a third of our lives sleeping. Without adequate sleep, we just don’t function — we begin to catch every cold or flu that goes around, we stop processing glucose normally, and we stop coding short-term memories into long-term storage. Everything goes haywire.
This is a problem because 35% of the adult American population suffers from insomnia in one form or another. 1
A chiropractor works with dozens of patients who aren’t sleeping enough and are going through life with their tank chronically running on empty. If these patients don’t get the help they need, they will be at increased risk for conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. The fact of the matter is that chronic sleep deprivation is a causal factor in a wide variety of chronic health conditions. 2
As such, it is important that chiropractors step in and provide care that gets to the root of the problem and addresses this aspect of patient health and well-being. To get started, here are five strategies to pass on to your patients who are struggling to get a full night’s sleep.
Develop a routine
A lot of the time, patients who aren’t sleeping well aren’t sleeping on a schedule. If patients find a strategy for getting to sleep at the same time each night, they will have a much easier time getting the deep and restful sleep the body needs.
Going to bed at the same time each night helps the body establish normal circadian rhythms that operate in a predictable way. Basically, the body loves patterns. 3 Advise patients to coordinate their sleep/wake cycles with the times that the sun rises and sets, at least to the extent that they are able. Going to bed around 9-10 p.m. allows a patient to take advantage of the melatonin that the body naturally produces when the sun goes down. 4
Going to bed early also allows the body to take full advantage of important hormones that are released during the first few hours after the onset of sleep. Growth hormone, for example, is typically secreted about three hours after an individual falls asleep, and helps to facilitate the recovery and repair that happens at night. 5
Reduce after-dark screen time
The brain can’t tell the difference between the blue light emitted from TV screens, computers, and phones and regular daytime sunlight. Both send a signal through the body’s endocrine system communicating that it’s time to be awake. 6
If a patient spends a lot of time in front of a screen before bed, their body won’t produce all of the melatonin that is normally released when the sun goes down. For a lot of people, this is the fundamental problem behind many sleepless nights. Instead of watching TV, recommend that your patients try reading a book or taking a warm bath. Though this can be a major change for some, it can be the thing that makes an enormous difference in their level of health.
Switch to a firm mattress
Sleeping on a soft mattress sounds great, but most chiropractors know that this can cause a lot of pain and discomfort to develop over time. A firm mattress helps to improve sleep posture and prevent the aches and pains that develop when the body sinks into the mattress unevenly. This, in turn, helps improve the duration and restfulness of sleep. 7
And, while a firm mattress stabilizes the spine and facilitates better-quality sleep, pillows can be used for added comfort. This really provides the best of both worlds.
Go to bed on an empty stomach
Many people don’t realize that sleep is an active process where the body works to “reset” a variety of critical bodily systems and mentally code the events of the day into memory. To get this work done, the body needs a break from the task of digestion.
If a patient is still digesting a meal when they are trying to sleep, the sympathetic nervous system will still be activated in order to accomplish this task. At night, we really want the opposite to occur. If a patient can manage to eat their last meal by about 6 p.m., they will be ready for a night of sound sleep by 9-10 p.m. Under these circumstances, the parasympathetic nervous system will be able to kick in and perform all of the active recovery that the body needs in order to feel well-rested. 8
Reduce ambient light in the bedroom
Studies show that a dark room promotes better quality sleep. If a bedroom is dimly lit by screens, lamps, bright clock interfaces or other sources, this can interfere with a patient’s ability to get deep and restful sleep. 9
For this reason patients should eliminate these sources of ambient light and sleep in a room that is fully dark for the entire sleep period. If a patient isn’t going to wake up at sunrise, blackout curtains can help to ensure that the body continues to sleep deeply throughout the entire period they are in bed.
Sleep quality should matter to chiropractors because it is essential to each patient’s health and wellness. If a patient isn’t sleeping well, nothing else they do will enable them to achieve an optimal level of health.
Improve patient outcomes and ensure effective adjustments by getting to the source of the problem. By improving the quality of patients’ sleep, an enormous difference can be made in patients’ health and satisfaction with chiropractic care. And happy patients make referrals. To improve patient outcomes and serve more members of the community, start by offering more comprehensive care.
TODD SINGLETON, DC, is an author, speaker and consultant who has been a chiropractor for more than 25 years. He ran the largest MD/DC/PT clinics in Utah before switching to an all-cash nutrition-based model in 2006, and now spends his time training other chiropractors how to successfully implement nutrition-based systems in their offices. For more information call 801-903-7141 or visit DoctorSingletonsArticles.com.