“I tell you, doc, after your adjustment yesterday I had the best sleep I’ve had in years. Last night I was able to sleep 14 hours straight, instead of waking up every 3 hours.”

Comments such as these are not uncommon in my focus of patient care.

I am an upper cervical chiropractor who focuses on neurostructural correction. My partner and I adjust the top two vertebrae of a patient’s spine, the atlas and/or axis, which together constitute a delicate locking structure that protects the brainstem.

This specifically tailored adjustment ensures that these protective bones are in proper alignment. These vertebrae are prone to misalignments due to the increased range of motion in this area of the neck. Indeed, most fatal cervical spine injuries, especially car accidents, occur where these vertebrae protect the brainstem.

The brainstem is the most primitive part of the brain yet controls vital autonomic functions of the human body such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, temperature, and consciousness. People can be brain dead, but as long as they have the basic functions of a brainstem they are still considered alive though unresponsive.

When the atlas and/or axis are misaligned, the brainstem, attached to these bones by means of ligaments, has problems transmitting crucial signals from the brain to the body and the body to the brain.

While some parents of teenagers would disagree with this, being asleep is different from being in a coma. Sleep is essential for our bodies in many different ways. While we are in deep sleep/slow-wave sleep, our body energy levels are restored, our brains sort through the events of the day consolidating memories and things we’ve learned, and weakened connections between brain cells are strengthened.

Since the 1970s there have been thousands of sleep studies, and during this time pharmaceutical companies have explored ways to help induce sleep.  As New York Magazine explains,

“Americans spend billions of dollars every year on sleep drugs, but a well-understood and regrettable secret of the pharma industry is that none is very good. We can knock you out, but you may not feel right for a day or so. We can softly sedate you, but you may spring wide awake four hours later. The best-known drugs in the category — including barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and z-class hypnotics like Ambien and Lunesta — work by manipulating the behavior of GABA in the upper part of the brain. But many neurologists have long suspected that there is probably a better way to induce deep sleep.”

ReferenceWill a new discovery help cure insomnia?

According to a study published in Nature NeuroscienceHarvard researchers believe they have found a location in the brainstem, which they term the parafacial zone, that accounts for half the sleep-inducing neurochemical gamma-hydroxbuyrate, or GABA.

While the pharmaceutical industry will work to find new ways of harnessing this knowledge, I think it is important to understand why the parafacial zone may not be operating in an optimal way in the first place. It is common knowledge amongst upper cervical chiropractors that with an appropriate correction, patients can experience better sleep and improved blood pressure immediately after an adjustment.

With this new information demonstrating connections between brainstem and sleep, chiropractors should renew our own research on the benefits of our care to individuals with trouble sleeping. We need to keep spreading the word that there are noninvasive ways to improve the body’s overall self-healing, self-regulating mechanisms.

For more information feel free to contact us at currentchiropractic@dr.com


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