For many, falling asleep, as simple as it sounds, can be a difficult venture. Low-quality sleep can be brought on by a variety of reasons, including pain, insomnia, migraines, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. While people tend to try fix after fix to finally experience a good night’s sleep, there might be one you may not have thought of: visiting a chiropractor for sleep problems.
Going way beyond aligning your spine, chiropractors can oftentimes help with these common sleep issues. Ahead, we’ll explore what a chiropractor can and can’t do for your sleep.
What does a chiropractor do?
According to David Koivuranta, doctor of chiropractic in Toronto, Canada, chiropractors specialize in the treatment of neuromusculoskeletal conditions—particularly those affecting the spine and nervous system—but also the rest of the joints in the body.
“While chiropractors do want people to feel better, they have an interest in ensuring that happens by helping the body work or function better while not just masking or compensating for a health problem,” he says. “In other words, the effort is on finding the cause or source of health concerns and improving them,” and sleep is a major part of this.
Grant Radermacher, doctor of chiropractic at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield, Wis., says chiropractors use a variety of hands-on therapies, including spinal manipulation, soft tissue therapy, and other techniques to help reduce pain and optimize physical function.
Can a chiropractor help with sleep problems?
You may be wondering: “Can a chiropractor help with insomnia and other sleep issues?”
Radermacher says that while chiropractors aren’t technically sleep specialists and don’t directly treat sleep disorders, like insomnia or sleep apnea, studies have shown chiropractic care can indeed help with sleep problems—especially if they’re related to joint, muscle, or nerve pain.
For instance, Radermacher cites a systematic review published by the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine in 2010 which concluded that, while more clinical research is needed, observational studies have noted significant improvement in sleep quality following manual therapy by a chiropractor.
He goes on to say that additionally, chiropractors can give advice on sleep hygiene, posture, exercise, and stress management, which all play a role in improving sleep.
Here’s more on what chiropractors can help treat in regard to sleep:
“Pain has a number of ways in which it can interfere with sleep,” Koivuranta says, which he explains is similar to trying to fall asleep with loud music playing in the background. The “noise” distracts from the “peace” that is usually best for rest.
“Pain also floods our nervous system with signals so we can feel what our body is trying to tell us, and that flood of information can interfere with our nervous system, especially the brain’s function,” he says. “This can in turn affect other systems, including the endocrine system, and mess with the physiological patterns associated with sleep, like the natural circadian rhythm.”
Radermacher says currently, clinical practice guidelines almost universally recommend chiropractic care as a first-line treatment for back pain. He points out that in a 2013 study, over 73% of low back pain sufferers found significant pain relief with chiropractic practices.
Some studies have proven chiropractic treatment may be effective in improving sleep quality and reducing insomnia, particularly in people who also have musculoskeletal pain, Radermacher says.
For instance, in one 2005 study, a third of the 152 patients involved experienced improved insomnia symptoms immediately after their first chiropractic adjustment.
Migraines can put a real damper on one’s life, and that includes when it comes to trying to sleep. Since many headaches, including migraines, have been found to have a neck component, as Koivuranta notes, and act as a source of pain and interfere with the nervous system, they can ultimately disrupt sleep.
“By improving neck function, especially through the intimate connection with the nervous system, headache frequency, intensity, and duration can be improved, thereby offering a better opportunity for restored sleep patterns and quality,” he says.
Radermacher says if you suffer from migraines and have ruled out diet, medications, and hormones as triggers, then it may be time to book an appointment with a chiropractor.
So, can a chiropractor help with sleep apnea? As it turns out, yes—they can address the underlying conditions that are often associated with sleep apnea, such as neck pain and other musculoskeletal issues that may contribute to airway obstruction during sleep, says Radermacher.
“A component of sleep apnea includes the position and space available for the airway as it relates to the tongue and throat,” Koivuranta says. “With posture changes, especially in the upper back and neck, the position of the throat structures and jaw are altered.”
This can make it more likely that these parts aren’t optimally positioned during sleep, increasing the likelihood of sleep apnea, he adds. “For some, due to the nature of changes in the spine, it becomes even more difficult to allow these structures to keep the airway comfortably open during sleep,” says Koivuranta. “Therefore, by improving posture, spinal alignment, and neck function, the opportunity for the airway to remain more open becomes possible.”
Radermacher shares that according to a 2017 study, 70% of participants with obstructive sleep apnea who received manual manipulative therapy experienced significant improvements in their symptoms.
Who shouldn’t go to a chiropractor?
“While chiropractic care is safe and effective for most people, it may be contraindicated for patients with certain medical conditions,” Radermacher says. “Specifically, those with previous spinal surgery, advanced osteoporosis, spinal cord compression, inflammatory arthritis, or severe disc herniation may not be good candidates for chiropractic care.”
Koivuranta adds that those with fractures, dislocations, cancer, or infection in the area of treatment would not be ideal candidates for receiving chiropractic treatment.
Additionally, Koivuranta cautions that chiropractic care doesn’t always directly treat sleep-related disorders, so a patient may still want to visit a sleep clinic—especially to rule out or address any potential medically related sleep issues.
Can spinal misalignment cause insomnia?
“Spinal misalignment can indeed cause insomnia,” Koivuranta affirms. The pain associated with spinal misalignment can. make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
How do chiropractors suggest you sleep?
Koivuranta says while the health and function of the body are essential to one’s quality and quantity of sleep, other factors are also valuable in providing a good night’s rest.
“Having an appropriate pillow and mattress is vital in this regard,” he says. “As well, other habits, such as screen time, the sleep environment (temperature, lighting, noise, etc.), eating prior to bedtime, exercises/fitness (staying active and not being active too late), and stress/mindfulness, can also impact sleep quality.”
He adds that many healthcare providers, including doctors of chiropractic, are qualified to offer suggestions in all these areas to help ensure a better sleep experience.
Why do I sleep so well after a chiropractic adjustment?
“Besides eliminating the root causes of muscle and joint pain, chiropractic adjustments have been shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can also contribute to better sleep,” Radermacher shares. “The physical manipulation of the spine during a chiropractic adjustment also stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood enhancers, leading to a sense of well-being and relaxation that can improve sleep quality.”
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