What is the importance of sleep?

If you are reading this blog then you are likely an individual who suffers from poor sleeping habits or someone who is trying to understand why sleep is important or why we as humans sleep in general.

Sleep plays many important roles in the human body. A few of these roles are memory storage and regulation, learning, immune system regulation, hormone regulation, emotion regulation, regulation of metabolism, and assisting in recovery and performance. 


What is it About Sleep that Makes it so Important?

Let’s break down the stages of sleep:

  • Stage 1, this stage is relatively short. This is considered the transition zone or otherwise seen as the act of dozing offSleeping
  • Stage 2, is the stage where both your body and mind begin to relax. This is also the stage in which lucid dreaming can be achieved.
  • Stage 3, is known as deep sleep. Now your body begins the recovery process, slowing down your mental activity and digestive processes even further than stage 2. Here your brain will begin the roles of memory storage and regulation, learning, hormone regulation, emotion regulation, regulation of metabolism, and assisting in recovery and performance.
  • Stage 4, is the REM “Rapid Eye Movement” this is when dreaming occurs.

The body moves through stages 3 and 4 multiple times a night with each cycle taking between 70 and 120 minutes. The beginning cycles are associated with more stage 3 sleep and the later cycles of the night are associated with stage 4.(Eric,Sleepfoundation.org)


What happens during sleep?

  • Every part of your body experiences changes during sleep. Your brain decreases the number of neurons firing which decreases the number of signals sent throughout the body.
  • Your breath rate decreases from stage 1-3 but will increase and be irregular during stage 4 REM. Your heart rate follows a similar pattern decreasing during stages 1-3 and becoming increased during stage 4.
  • Muscles gradually relax and go into a state known as atonia. Atonia is when the muscle is paralyzed during sleep. This is to keep the arms and legs from moving while the body is sleeping. The reason for this is to keep the body safe during sleep and to reduce total energy expenditure while sleeping.
  • Overall brain activity is reduced while sleeping. The brain produces special patterns called waves with each stage of sleep associated with a different wave type. During stages 2 and 3 the brain is relatively calm except for occasional bursts of activity. During stage 4 or REM sleep the brain activity accelerates. This is why stage 4 is associated with vivid dreams. Memory processing and consolidation is thought to take place during REM.



Hormones and sleep?

Ever heard of the circadian rhythm? This is the body’s internal clock. Having a stable circadian rhythm is important for the proper production and release of certain hormones such as;

  • Leptin and Ghrelin- these hormones control appetite and movement of food in the gut “gastric motility”
  • Melatonin- Your body naturally produces melatonin to assist you in falling asleep. Melatonin also acts as an important antioxidant and assist the immune system in proper function.
  • Growth Hormone- this supports bone health and muscle development as well as metabolism and fat burning. The amount of growth hormone decreases as we age but the more healthy sleep you get the more growth hormone is released.
  • Cortisol- this assists in inflammatory processes, which may sound like a bad thing. But inflammation is an important reaction in the body and has more helpful use cases than harmful.



Chiropractic care and sleep?


Sleep issues can be caused by a large variety of reasons. Considering back pain affects over 50% of adults and chronic headaches and migraines affect over 30 million Americans each year. It makes sense that insomnia affects 30% of the adult population.

Pain and sleep create a negative feedback loop on each other. The more pain you are in the less sleep you get, the less sleep you get the more sensitive to pain you become. As a chiropractor, we have extensive training in the neuromuscular skeletal systems. Meaning we specialize in the mind-body connection. Chiropractors have been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of back pain and migraines. This can lead to greater amounts of sleep, thus breaking the negative feedback loop.(sleep.org)


Here are tips to help you sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. 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. Avoid exercising closer than 5 or 6 hours before bedtime.
  • 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 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 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 urinate.
  • Healthy Diet May Improve Sleep Quality – A diet low in fiber and high in saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more arousals, a 2016 study has found. “We found that sleep quality appears to be affected by what we eat, with fiber and saturated fat particularly important factors,” – J Clin Sleep Med. 2016;12:19-24.
  • Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep, if possible. Some 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, an uncomfortable bed, or a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, keeping the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side can help you sleep better.
  • Reading From a Tablet Before Bed May Affect Sleep Quality – People who read from an iPad for 30 minutes before going to sleep felt less sleepy and had different electrical activity in the brain during sleep than those who read from a physical book. “Researchers found a delay of 30 minutes in the generation of the restorative slow waves during sleep in the iPad condition,” – Source: http://bit.ly/1nwuKIj Sleep Med 2016.
  • 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.
  • Sometimes just having regular sleep habits can help.


“Sleep Benefits of Going to a Chiropractor.” Sleep.org, 16 Mar. 2021, www.sleep.org/chiropractic-sleep-relief/.

Perry, Geraldine S et al. “Raising awareness of sleep as a healthy behavior.” Preventing chronic disease vol. 10 E133. 8 Aug. 2013, doi:10.5888/pcd10.130081

Suni, Eric. “What Happens When You Sleep?” Sleep Foundation, 30 Oct. 2020, www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep

Morgenthaler T, Kramer M, Alessi C, Friedman L, Boehlecke B, Brown T, et al. Practice parameters for the psychological and behavioral treatment of insomnia: an update. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine report. Sleep. 2006;29:1415-1419.

Morin CM, Benca R. Chronic Insomnia. The Lancet. 2012 March 24; vol. 379 (9821):1129-1141.

Vitiello MV, Rybarczyk B, Von Korff M, Stepanski EJ. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia improves sleep and decreases pain in older adults with co-morbid insomnia and osteoarthritis. J Clin Sleep Med. 2009 Aug 15;5:355-362.

Wickwire EM, Collop NA. Insomnia and sleep-related breathing disorders. Chest. 2010;137:1449-1463.

Hypnotic Use Linked With Increased Risk for Early Death – BMJ Open. Published online February 28, 2012.