Written by: Mallorie Stallings
Updated March 4, 2021
Sleep issues arise for a variety of reasons. Pain seems to be a leading factor in poor quality of sleep. Spinal pain (1) affects over 54% of adults, while migraines and chronic headaches (2) affect over 38 million Americans and counting. In addition to pain, insomnia affects over 30% (3) of adults and is often correlated with health issues. Other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy, although not as prevalent in the general population as chronic pain, also create barriers to restorative sleep.
Often, people seek out new mattresses or pillows to help alleviate their sleep issues. Others try diet changes or new exercise routines. However, visiting the chiropractor is another available option. Seeing a chiropractor regularly may help you address some of the issues you’re having obtaining a restful night's slumber.
What Can I Expect from a Chiropractor?
A chiropractor is a licensed medical professional who works to adjust and manipulate the body’s muscular and skeletal system (4) to reduce pain, regain mobility, improve posture, and more. Chiropractic work is non-invasive and usually requires a few sessions of about an hour or so.
A chiropractor's adjustments may sound unnerving (think, snap, crackle, pop!), but they are no cause for worry. Medical issues resulting from spinal manipulations are minor and infrequent (5). You might have some minor side effects (6) after a chiropractic treatment, such as headache or muscle stiffness, but those usually go away quickly.
How Does Pain Contribute to Poor Sleep?
Understanding how pain and sleep interact is like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg. Discomfort can cause poor sleep, and poor sleep can cause pain by lowering the body’s threshold (7) for pain. Studies show that poor sleep is impacted by chronic pain (8) and vice versa. However, they also show that if you can start getting better sleep, pain appears to lessen over time.
Chronic pain, such as pain in the spine, neck, hips, and legs, can cause discomfort when you are trying to get comfortable and sleep. Successful sleep requires a certain level of comfortability, and pain often keeps the body from reaching a state of comfort. As a result, pain impacts your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Will a Visit to the Chiropractor Help Me Sleep Better?
If you are struggling with chronic pain and migraines, there is evidence to suggest that visiting a chiropractor will help you sleep better. Migraines (9) are defined by a throbbing or pulsating pain on one side or both sides of the head. Migraines are often made worse by loud sounds, bright light, or a lack of sleep.
Evidence suggests that regular visits (10) to your chiropractor can help reduce the frequency (11) of migraine headaches. In three 2019 case studies, patients experienced a reduction in migraine symptoms (12) and duration, and an increase in pain-free days after receiving manual manipulation.
If you’re struggling with symptoms that are not pain-related, such as insomnia, sleep apnea or narcolepsy, the research does not strongly support (13) a link between manual manipulation and a decrease in sleep disorder symptoms (14). This may be because such disorders have other medical components that are not related to the skeletal system, and therefore chiropractic manipulation has little effect on symptom reduction.
Can a Chiropractor Help My Baby Sleep Better?
Research results are mixed on if babies benefit from a trip to the chiropractor. A 2018 study found that manual manipulation in infants helped reduce crying time (15) by about an hour a day. The impact a chiropractic treatment had on infant sleep was inconclusive, however.
Visits to the chiropractor positively impact colic in babies (16), reducing crying time by about an hour. However, it is unclear if this reduction in colic symptoms occurred during the important sleeping hours. One case study demonstrated success in treating an infant’s sleep issues (17) with chiropractic manipulation, however these results have yet to be replicated in subsequent studies.
There is evidence that visiting the chiropractor as a pregnant person has shown to help alleviate lower back pain (18) and improve sleep. Additionally, receiving massage therapy while pregnant (19) has also been shown to help with sleep. So, while the chiropractor may not be able to improve sleep in your little one, they may be able to help you if you are pregnant and experiencing sleep issues.
Who Should Avoid a Visit to the Chiropractor?
Chiropractic medicine involves physical manipulation of the skeletal and muscular systems. Therefore, people who are experiencing bone density loss due to osteoporosis (20) should not seek chiropractic care. Additionally, people with cancer and who are in the middle of a cancer treatment should avoid chiropractic care, since cancer treatments can impact the stability and density of bones (21).
Lastly, people with broken bones and chronic arthritis are not encouraged to seek chiropractic care, because arthritis can cause joint immobility and bone erosion (22). Check with your primary care physician prior to receiving treatment to determine if you’re a good candidate for chiropractic care.
How do I know if seeing a Chiropractor is right for me?
Medical decisions should not be made lightly, so if you’re still wondering if a chiropractor is right for you consider taking these steps:
- Identify what is causing you sleep distress. If it is pain keeping you awake, maybe a chiropractor is right for you.
- Check with your insurance provider. Knowing if your insurance provider covers chiropractic care can help you with your decision.
- Talk to a trusted friend or relative about their experience seeing a chiropractor.
What Else Can I Do to Help Me Sleep Better?
In addition to seeing a chiropractor, you can also address your lack of slumber in a variety of ways. You can:
- Try changing your sleeping position to one that promotes a more restful night
- Evaluate your current sleep routine and look for areas to improve your sleep hygiene
- If your budget allows, purchasing a new mattress or chiropractic pillow may also help you settle into a more rewarding nighttime routine
- Seek out mattresses that are specifically made to help back pain and shoulder pain
- Increase exercise to help you sleep better and reduce overall body pain
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32903339/ Accessed February 19, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11554952/ Accessed February 19, 2021.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353813/ Accessed February 20, 2021.
- https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/special-subjects/integrative-complementary-and-alternative-medicine/v36858867?query=chiropractors Accessed February 19, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24679336/ Accessed on February 22, 2021.
- https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/news/external/2017/04/11/21/55/chiropractors-not-magicians-when-it-comes-to-chronic-back-pain Accessed on February 20, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31207606/ Accessed on February 21, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24290442/ Accessed on February 19, 2021.
- https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/headaches/migraines Accessed on February 20, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22014909/ Accessed on February 20, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15129207/ Accessed on February 19, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30944771/ Accessed on February 21, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15855906/ Accessed on February 20, 2021.
- https://www.academia.edu/24930079/Journal_of_Sleep_Medicine_and_Disorders_Central_The_Chiropractic_Subluxation_and_Insomnia_Could_there_be_a_Connection Accessed on February 21, 2021.
- https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/1/e019040.long Accessed on February 20, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23235617/ Accessed February 19, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19066699/ Accessed February 20, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18722200/ Accessed February 22, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23997252/ Accessed February 22, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24715132/ Accessed February 20, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29353450/ Accessed February 19, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29736302/ Accessed February 20, 2021.