You Need to Sleep More!
By Dr. Janine Pulley
The benefits of sleep are wide-ranging – it is necessary for healthy brain functioning (so you can learn and remember information), emotional well-being, and improved problem solving and decision-making.1-2 Sleep is also crucial for your physical health because you need it for healing and repair of your body. Chronic sleep deficiency has been linked to increased high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke.1-2 Sleep also helps you maintain the proper balance of your hormones, which helps you control your appetite, maintain your immune system, and have healthy growth and development.1-2 The average person needs about 8 hours of sleep per night.3
So how do you get this sleep your body needs? There are many ways to improve your ability to fall and stay asleep as well as the quality of the sleep you get. The most important component is consistency – keeping a wake/sleep schedule, having a bed-time routine or ritual, regular exercise, and regulating your sleep environment (by keeping your room dark, a good temperature for you with minimal noise).2 Humans are creatures of habit, so the more you ritualize your sleep, the easier it will become.
It is also important to avoid potential pitfalls that can keep you from sleeping well. Some of these pitfalls are consuming caffeine too close to bedtime (stop at least 4-6 hours before), eating a heavy meal or drinking alcohol before sleep, and smoking near bedtime or if you wake up during the night.2
How you physically sleep at night can also be a potential cause of disturbance, which is often overlooked and under-studied. Having the proper mattress and pillow is critical for maintain the proper sleeping posture at night, which allows your body to be at ease so you can sleep more soundly.
First, you need to purchase a firm mattress. You spend one third of your life on your mattress, so you should sleep on a firm one because a firm one provides the best support for your body. There should be NO sags. (Sorry, waterbeds and memory foam mattresses have been proven to prevent your spine from correcting with ABCTM – the approach used by Dr. Pulley to correct your posture.) A poor mattress may “feel good,” but it does not properly support your body. This will delay your healing process as well as create new health problems. A good mattress is your best investment. A poor mattress is a health (and money) drain.
Second, you need to have the appropriate pillow for whether you sleep on your side or your back (stomach sleepers will need to change because there is no way to make stomach sleeping ok – you are literally sleeping with at least your neck twisted all night).
The best sleeping position is on your side – it is the way healthy humans around the world sleep. When sleeping on your side, your pillow or towels should be neither too high nor too low. This understanding will change your life – it makes the difference between a good night’s sleep and chronic sleep deprivation.
Dr. Pulley has adjustable foam pillows available at the office that can be modified to find the correct height, but you can do the same thing at home with folded towels. Start out with a towel pile that is too high and go lower. Start with the towel height approximately the same as your spread fingers, thumb tip to pinkie tip.
Lay on the floor with about four to five towels folded in a pile. If your body is falling forward, add another layer of towel. If your body is falling back, eliminate a layer of towel. One layer could make the difference. When you have the correct height, your eyes will close almost automatically and you will feel like falling asleep. Find the height that’s right for you. To accommodate spinal curvatures as you unwind (if you are working with Dr. Pulley using ABCTM), the height may not look level to an outside observer and it may change over time.
Establish the height of the towels on the floor once before trying it in bed. You will sink into the bed more than the floor, so the towel height may change.
It is OK to sleep with a small pillow between your knees. Just make sure that your thighs are not so apart that it puts pressure on your hips.
Sleeping on your back is the second best sleep position. When sleeping on your back, do not use a pillow, as it will prop your head and neck forward. You will likely only need one small slice of an adjustable pillow. If you are using towels, use a hand or bath towel and fold one end three times about two inches wide. Fold the other end in half. The towel under your neck is NOT a roll to push your neck up. It should feel like very light pressure.
Do not read or watch TV in bed, particularly with your head propped at a sharp or strained angle. If you must read in bed, sit up against an “armchair type” backrest, or fashion one with pillows. Keeping your head propped forward at a strained angle will alter the curvature of your neck and will cause spinal misalignments that will further impair your ability to sleep.
Still having some trouble sleeping? Then you should schedule an appointment to figure out what is going on. Dr. Pulley can help correct your posture and customize the sleeping posture recommendations you just read about (this was the key for her to fall asleep within 15 minutes rather than after 2-3 hours of reading every night). Sometimes it does not matter what you do – your posture is so misaligned that you will sleep crooked until you have it corrected. Dr. Pulley is happy to perform an evaluation to determine if that is what is happening with your body.
Dr. Pulley can also discuss how acupuncture may help relax your mind and body to help you sleep. She also has Standard Process herbal formulas, such as Valerian root and Kava Forte that can help calm your body and mind in a similar fashion as acupuncture.