How a Chiropractor Can Help You Sleep Better

By Megan Griffith

Getting a good night’s sleep is absolutely essential to our general health and well-being, but in our modern world, that can be easier said than done. In our busy lives, it can be hard to get enough sleep in the first place, but even if you are getting a solid 7-9 hours each night, you may not be getting restful, restorative sleep.

Do you toss and turn all night, or find yourself waking up just as exhausted as when you went to sleep? If this is the case, there’s a good chance that you aren’t getting restful sleep, and as a result, your overall health could suffer.

Thankfully, there are ways to improve your sleep quality and improve your quality of life. One lesser-known method is seeing a chiropractor. Even though they are experts in the musculoskeletal system rather than neurologists or sleep experts, they could be an important factor in helping you get a good night’s sleep. Keep reading to learn how.

How a Chiropractor Can Help You Sleep

One of the biggest barriers to restorative sleep is pain. People with pain get less sleep and report a lower quality of sleep, all of which causes a lower overall quality of life.

“Sleep difficulties often arise through the muscles being tense, which can come as a result of stress or anxiety, pain or the presence of an underlying spinal issue such as an abnormally straight neck or upper back,” explains Dr. Rin J. Park, D.C. at Rin Spine & Aesthetics Center. “Chiropractic treatment can relieve pain from affected areas and alleviate the neck and upper back conditions that lead to sleep disruption,” says Dr. Park.

In nearly all cases, pain stems from tissue damage of the muscles or ligaments, and since chiropractors are experts in the musculoskeletal system, they can often help relieve this pain.

Chiropractors can help improve sleep in the following ways:

  • Reducing back pain
  • Reducing stress
  • Increasing healthy blood flow
  • Reducing digestive discomfort

Reducing Back Pain

Chiropractic adjustments are often designed to reduce back pain, which is vital for healthy sleep. Back pain can prevent us from falling asleep, keep us trapped in light, non-restorative sleep once we do fall asleep, and it can wake us up multiple times throughout the night.

Chiropractors can help by making adjustments that relieve pressure buildup in various pressure points along the back, such as in the lower back, shoulders and neck. Once this pressure is relieved, pain often fades and we are able to get a better night’s sleep.

Reducing Stress

Most of us are very familiar with that awful feeling of being mentally exhausted but being completely unable to fall asleep due to a whirlwind of stress and anxiety swirling around our brain. According to Dr. Andrea Shakarian, DC., chiropractors can help alleviate this issue by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.

When we’re stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated and it causes us to go into fight, flight or freeze mode. “Most of us are running in this flight or fight response mode on a daily basis and therefore we find it hard to unwind to go to sleep at night,” Dr. Shakarian says.

By adjusting the cervical and sacral areas of the spine, chiropractors can signal to our body that it’s time to leave that mode and enter a more relaxed mode.

Increasing Healthy Blood Flow

Dr. Shakarian also explains that chiropractic adjustments can help improve sleep quality by increasing healthy blood flow. “A chiropractic adjustment often helps you sleep better because a properly aligned spine takes unnecessary stress off the joints of the body and when doing so, the blood and nerve flow is once again restored to all areas of the body,” Dr. Shakarian says.

Healthy blood flow is essential for healthy bodily function, and when we are in good overall health, we tend to get better sleep as well.

Reducing Digestive Discomfort

Do you find that gastrointestinal distress often keeps you awake at night? Believe it or not, a chiropractor can help with that as well.

According to Dr. Park, “Upper back issues can include impingement of the nerves leading to the stomach, which causes poor digestion and can influence sleep.” Through chiropractic adjustments, you can relieve those pinches nerves, improve your digestion and sleep more soundly.

Chiropractic Adjustments that Help You Sleep Better

“Adjustments in and of themselves are not going to magically help you sleep better,” explains Dr. Alex Tauberg, a Pittburgh chiropractor. “If [chiropractic adjustments] help to relieve the pain that you are in then they can help.”

To reduce pain so you can improve your comfort and get better sleep, there are a few specific adjustments your chiropractor might try, such as:

  • High-velocity low-amplitude manipulation (HVLA)
  • Cervical and sacral adjustments
  • Recommending lifestyle changes

High-Velocity Low-Amplitude Manipulation

This is a broad term for a general chiropractic adjustment that involves a short, quick thrust. There are many different specific versions of HVLA manipulation, some of which use just the hands, but others of which use special chiropractic tables and equipment. Its general purpose is to relieve pain and soothe pinched nerves, which can help improve sleep.

Cervical and Sacral Adjustments

Cervical and sacral adjustments may be made through HVLA manipulation, but these areas may be targeted specifically even if you do not have pain in your neck (cervical) and base (sacral). This is because adjustments in these areas can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and help our body exit fight, flight or freeze mode.

Lifestyle Changes

If you see a chiropractor for sleep problems, they may have some suggestions on what to change in your daily life to improve your sleep quality and overall health.

According to the International Chiropractors Association, you may be able to improve your sleep health by sleeping on your back, getting at least half an hour of sunlight exposure each day and avoid alcoholic beverages right before bed.

Who Can Benefit from a Chiropractor? 

Chiropractors can help people who face the following issues get better sleep: 

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Back, neck and shoulder pain
  • Infant sleep issues

Chiropractors for Insomnia

Insomnia is more than just having a little trouble falling asleep right away; some people struggle to fall asleep for hours, often getting far less sleep than they need in order to maintain a high  quality of life.

Many insomniacs can’t pinpoint a reason for their sleeplessness, and oftentimes they report feeling tired. They just can’t seem to fall asleep. For some insomniacs, a visit to the chiropractor may help.

According to a study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, many insomniacs report improved sleep after seeing a chiropractor. However, these effects were not always consistent or long-term, so while chiropractic adjustment may help you get through a period of intense insomnia, the underlying issue will likely need to be resolved in another way.

Chiropractors for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when a person experiences respiratory disturbances, which is when breathing stops randomly throughout the night. According to the International Chiropractors Association, our posture and sleep position can affect respiration.

Poor sleep posture can lead to pinched nerves and muscle pain, which could, in turn, lead to respiratory disturbances, creating a cycle of sleep apnea. A trip to the chiropractor can help reduce nerve pinching and muscle pain and break the cycle.

Chiropractors for Back, Neck and Shoulder Pain

One of the things chiropractors do best is relieve pain, especially in the back, neck and shoulders, and that can make all the difference when it comes to getting good sleep. Back pain is commonly caused by sprained or strained muscles and ligaments, ruptured disks, irritated joints or unhealed injuries. Chiropractors can help with all of these ailments, offering adjustments that reduce pain and help you get better sleep.

Chiropractors for Infant Sleep Issues

We all know that babies tend to be finicky sleepers, but have you ever thought, “Surely there has to be something we can do to make this better?”

It turns out, infants can also benefit from chiropractic adjustment. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 40% of infants sleep more deeply after just one visit to the chiropractor. Plus, the better your baby sleeps, the better you’re likely to sleep as well.

Sleep and Spine Health

One of the most important factors in getting a healthy night’s sleep is spine alignment. Generally, we are upright when we’re awake and our spine is naturally kept in alignment as long as we have decent posture. However, when we lie down in our beds at the end of the day, our spine alignment may get out of whack, depending on several factors.

Our mattress, pillow and sleeping position can all impact our spine alignment, which can lead to pain and/or poor sleep quality.

Graphic of a mattress causing a pinch point in the lower lumbar spine due to 'hammocking'

Your Mattress and Your Spine

One of the most important factors in proper spine alignment is your mattress. We spend nearly one-third of our lives on our mattresses, and if they don’t support our spine effectively, chronic back pain could be the result. A firmer mattress ideal for protecting your spine. The best firm mattresses will be supportive and pressure relieving, but still offer contouring comfort.

A sagging mattress is one of the worst things for spine alignment because it allows the lumbar region of your spine (the mid-lower back) to dip downward, putting increased pressure on your shoulders, hips and lower back. Over time, this can cause pain which may interrupt your sleep.

One of the best ways to avoid sagging is to replace your mattress when it starts to get old. There is not one particular type of mattress that we can recommend as the best choice for everyone, but we can explain the benefits and risks when it comes to different mattress styles.

  • Memory foam mattresses: Generally, memory foam mattresses are great for spine alignment because they contour to the natural curvature of your spine, offering both support and cushioning. However, extra-plush memory foam may allow for sagging, which is not good for spine alignment.
  • Innerspring mattresses: Old-school innerspring mattresses with large, interconnected coils are not a great choice for spine alignment because they do not always contour to your curves, but they do provide a nice medium-firm sleep surface, which is the current recommendation for better sleep for those with back pain.
  • Hybrid mattresses: Hybrid mattresses combine various mattress materials, which means they can be the best of both worlds for spine alignment, providing the medium-firm feel of innerspring with the contouring of memory foam, or they can be the worst possible combination for your spine. Be sure to do your research before buying a hybrid.
  • Firm mattresses: As we mentioned above, medium-firm mattresses are generally considered the best option for those with back pain. Extra-firm mattresses don’t support the natural curve of the spine and could lead to pressure buildup in the shoulders and hips.
  • Soft mattresses: Plush mattresses may conform to the curves of the spine better, but they also allow the spine to sink too deep into the mattress, which can create a dip in the spine which leads to increased back pain.

Your Pillow and Your Spine

In addition to your mattress, your pillow can also make a big difference when it comes to spine alignment and healthy sleep. If it props your neck up too high or doesn’t give your neck enough support, it can cause pain all along your spine. There are four types of pillows that can provide good support for various types of sleepers: memory foam, feather, latex or buckwheat.

  • Memory foam pillows: Like the mattresses, these pillows contour to the natural curve of your neck, and their flexibility makes them a great option for people who tend to change sleep positions throughout the night.
  • Feather pillows: These pillows tend to be firmer than memory foam, and they also tend to be taller, meaning they will raise your head up more. This makes them a poor fit for stomach sleepers, but for other sleeping positions, they can work very nicely.
  • Latex pillows: Latex pillows are a lot like memory foam in that they can contour to everyone’s individual curvature, but latex is also nice and cool, unlike most memory foams.
  • Buckwheat pillows: Buckwheat is organic, hypoallergenic and adjustable, so even though these pillows don’t contour to your neck, you can adjust them each night to your preferred fluffiness, giving you the perfect amount of support every time.

Your Sleeping Position and Your Spine

The final factor in sleep and spine alignment is sleeping position. Most people either sleep on their back, stomach or side. Of these three options, sleeping on your back is generally considered best for spine alignment and relieving back pain, and stomach sleeping is considered the worst. 

  • Side sleeping: Although side sleeping isn’t the optimal sleeping position for pain relief, it isn’t the worst either. When we sleep on our sides, all of our weight is condensed to a smaller surface area than when we sleep on our back, and that condensation can lead to increased pressure in the hips and shoulders which could cause pain.
  • Stomach sleeping: Stomach sleeping is the worst position for spine alignment because it forces us to turn our heads sharply to one side while we sleep so we can breathe, which is bad for proper neck alignment. Plush, if you sleep on a plush mattress, your spine is more likely to sink down in the middle, increasing pressure and pain in the shoulders and hips.
  • Back sleeping: The best way to keep your spine aligned and prevent back pain is to sleep flat on your back on a medium-firm mattress. This position allows for even weight distribution and proper spine alignment, decreasing the likelihood of sleep-induced back pain.

Conclusion

Sleep health is integral to our overall health and wellbeing, so it’s important to know the best ways to prevent and treat back pain to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping due to back pain, indigestion or stress, a trip to the chiropractor might help improve your sleep and quality of life.


About the Author: Megan Griffith (she/her) is a professional lifestyle writer for Mattress Advisor. As a new mom, she understands the importance of a good night’s sleep, and she loves to write about the importance of rest.


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