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Healthy Sleep a Vital Building Block for Wellness and Optimal Performance

Individual patterns vary of course, but we humans will spend upwards of one-third of our entire lives sleeping. For centuries, sleep was little understood and assumed to be simply downtime when the brain had shut off and the body was at rest. In recent decades, however, we have gained an important new understanding of the complexity of sleep and its vital importance to good health and optimal performance.

As doctors of chiropractic, we are more aware of the neurological dimensions of sleep, since we understand its importance in maintaining our ability to think clearly, react quickly, create memories and function physically at our best. In fact, the pathways in the brain that help us learn and remember are very active when we sleep.

How much sleep is enough? Sleep needs vary from person to person, and they change throughout your lifecycle. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sound sleep each night. Newborns, on the other hand, sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, while children in preschool may sleep between 10 and 12 hours daily. School-age children and teens need at least 9 hours of sleep each night.

Some people believe that adults need less sleep as they age, but there is no evidence to show that a person's sleep needs diminish with age. Such ideas may be a reflection of the reality that older people do get less sleep, and we are more easily awakened as we age.

How do we go about achieving healthy sleep as a routine part of our good health program? There are things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep, the first of which is to consider the best position in which to sleep.

What sleep position is best? Sleep in the position that is most comfortable and best for your own relaxation, but one that will not contribute to pain or aggravate or perpetuate spinal problems.

Sleeping on your back. Sleeping on your back is one of the least stressful positions and is usually recommended for proper spinal alignment. If you sleep on your back, avoid thick pillows under your head that can force the head forward and place constant stress on the upper back and neck. Over a period of time, this persistent forward pressure may affect the normal curvature of the upper back and neck, leading to possible spinal alignments and a wide range of health problems that may ensue. Patients who suffer chronic or even intermittent back pain mat prefer to sleep on their back s with a pillow under their knees or under the small of their backs. Before you do so, however, consult your doctor of chiropractic. He or she may recommend that you actually avoid this position if you have an extenuating condition such as disc problems.

Sleeping on your side. An alternate position is sleeping on your side with your knees bent. When you sleep on your side it is essential to use enough pillows to prop up your head so that it is level with the rest of your spinal column. Sleeping on your side may also reduce the possibility of snoring. This position is usually suggested for those with low-back conditions and expectant mothers because it enhances relaxation, especially to the lower back. Pregnant women may find it helpful to place another pillow between the knees for maximum relaxation in this position.

Sleeping on your stomach. Normally, it is recommended that you avoid sleeping on your stomach. If you do, your face is forced to turn to either the extreme right or left in order to breathe. This may cause undue stress in the joints of the cervical spine, as well as stretching and/or shortening of the muscles and ligaments on one side of the spine or the other. Stomach (prone) sleeping may also help cause the rib cage to shift due to the body weight on the chest, and may contribute to stress in the lower back, extending into the hips, legs and feet. Symptoms of stomach sleeping may include neck and shoulder stiffness, acute torticollis (wry neck), and morning headache.

Is my mattress important for proper sleep? Indeed, yes! Your mattress is the basic foundation for healthy sleep. It is responsible lor supporting your body for an average of eight hours a day. When it is worn out, or too soft, the critical support you need for healthy sleep may be lacking. This-can lead to a more restless night's sleep and to backaches during sleep or upon arising. You can test your mattress.

  1. Look at the mattress. Is it bumpy? Does it sag? Are the box springs worn or uneven?
  2. Lie down on your mattress. Does the mattress feel too soft? Do you sink into it? Does it creak when you move?
  3. Do you roll into a valley in the middle of the bed during the night?
  4. You may be desensitized. Lie down on a new mattress. Does the new mattress feel better?

*lf you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, it may-be time for a new mattress set.

What kind of mattress should I use? Look at four factors when choosing a mattress.

Support - a good mattress should support the spine and help it maintain the same shape as a person with good upright posture. A very hard mattress can be uncomfortable because it can force the spine to arch or bow instead of relax as the body relaxes. It can also create painful pressure at the shoulders and hips where body weight concentrates during sleep. A very soft mattress lacks support, allowing the spine to sag and placing stress on the muscles and ligaments. Possible misalignments of the spinal vertebrae may result.

A sleep set such as the Super Premium King Koil Posture Bond or the Premium King Koil Spinal Guard has heavier coils in the center third of the mattress where most of your body weight is concentrated. This feature helps assure that the heavier parts of the body are held in a level sleep position. Both sets have a flexedge, non-sag border to prevent sloping along the edges. Both the Posture Bond and the Spinal Guard sleep sets were designed cooperatively by the Posture Committee of the International Chiropractors Association and King Koil.

  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. A "nightcap" might help you get to sleep, but alcohol keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the sedating effects have worn off.
  • Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep, if possible. Many commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Don't take naps after 3 p.m. Naps can boost your brain power, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Also, keep naps to under an hour.
  • Relax before bed. Take time to unwind. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.
  • Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help relax you.
  • Have a good sleeping environment. Get rid of anything that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights or a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, keeping the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side can help you sleep better.
  • Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Don't lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • See a doctor of chiropractic if you continue to have trouble sleeping. If you consistently find yourself feeling tired or not well rested during the day despite spending enough time in bed at night, you may have a sleep disorder.

Your family doctor of chiropractic can evaluate your needs and develop a personalized comprehensive care and wellness plan, and, if necessary make an appropriate referral to another professional or professionals.

Comfort - Only you can decide what will be the most comfortable bedding combination for you. Put on comfortable clothes and test a mattress for 5 to 10 minutes before buying.

Size - The average person moves 35 to 60 times during the night and turns over completely perhaps a dozen times. Make sure the bed is big enough for you to turn comfortably. Preferably, the mattress should be at least six inches longer than the individual using it.

Quality - A high quality bed of proper size and firmness is worth the investment. It will provide years of comfort and support. A sleep set such as the Super Premium King Koil Posture Bond or the Premium King Koil Spinal Guard has heavier coils.

Be Proactive and Smart About Your Sleep Needs and Problems! In consultation with your doctor of chiropractic who is well trained and experienced in addressing quality sleep issues:

  • Develop a sleep schedule that works best for you, and stick to it. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day — even on the weekends.
  • Exercise is great but not too late in the day. Exercise regularly, but avoid exercising closer than 5 or 6 hours before bedtime. Your doctor of chiropractic can help you develop the right exercise program for you.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. The stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, colas, teas, and chocolate can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully. Nicotine is also a stimulant.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to awaken frequently to use the bathroom.

The International Chiropractors Association is presently engaged in a comprehensive review of sleep research with the aim of making those findings available to chiropractic practitioners worldwide. We also believe that this review of the current state of sleep research will point to areas where additional study is needed and, in cooperation with our affiliated educational institutions and with the support of our sleep products partner King Koil Indonesia, we hope to help fill such gaps in the understanding of healthy sleep. For more information contact International Chiropractors Association at [email protected], 01-703-528-5000 or contact King Koil Indonesia.

Sleep Facts