Sleep Struggles – What’s the Story

Topics Covered: sleep

One of the biggest problems parents ask us about is sleep struggles with their kiddos. I’m going to dive right into the science behind this and go over some drug-free ways that will give your kiddo, or yourself, a little bit of relief. 

How Stress Affects Sleep

What can start this whole cycle is something as simple as stress. Stress comes in three forms.

Traumas, toxins, and thoughts are what we call “the three T’s” in chiropractic. But they may be understood in your world as physical stress, chemical (nutritional, toxins, etc) stress and emotional stress. 

Why do these things seem to pop up when we get into September and get back to school? Because there’s a lot more physical stress then. A lot of kids who are struggling with sleep are very involved. They’re in a lot of activities and a lot of them are physical activities. I’m not saying this is a bad thing on its own, but we are going to talk about the word accumulation. That’s the key when there’s too much stress stacking up on the system compared to enough calm and relaxation built into that system. Sleep is one of the first things that’s going to be affected and it may turn into its own perfect storm and vicious cycle that kids and people are going to struggle with.

Even if they’re not involved in sports, but just sitting all day at a desk with backpacks, the neck and shoulders are the real big keys within the neurophysiological system to where sleep comes from, it actually comes from the brain stem and is regulated by that. 

Then add in chemicals and toxins and you better believe they get a lot more emotional pressure and mental, social pressure with school, friends, sports, and everything else going on.  

Sleep Struggles – You Need to Start at the Beginning

Fall may be a season where this all really ramps up, but if you dig into most of these kids’ case histories, their sleep struggles usually go all the way back to when there was stress during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. There’s things like colic, chronic ear infections, immune challenges, constipation, irritation, most of these kiddos end up having a gut and  

GI component. 

Action Steps For How to Help Your Child

All of that stress stacks up and it leaves the system stuck.  When this happens, here are some action steps. First, is figuring out if your child is holding more stress than they could handle in all of its forms that got their nervous system stuck in this mode that doesn’t allow it to sleep. Step two is figuring out how to get it unstuck.  

When your kiddo is stuck, it means their central or autonomic nervous system is stuck in what’s called sympathetic, fight or flight mode. Now, this can be really good in the middle of a soccer game, Friday night football game, or at a cross country meet. The sympathetic system is a really rocking system when we need it. But we need this to let loose when it’s time to go to bed!  We’re not taking a test or running a race, we’re trying to get some sleep. Sympathetic is the opposite of what we want when we want to go to sleep. 

Think of your child’s nervous system like a pendulum. Way on one side is this fight or flight, protective, go, go, go system. On the other side is your snoring system, you’re drooling and if someone hit you with a baseball bat you wouldn’t wake up because you’re getting such good sleep. For many of you parents that was called three decades ago. 

During the day you’ve got to be going. As a grown-up, you’ve got work – as a kid, you’ve got school. Naturally, we are more towards the fight or flight gas pedal during the day and then as it gets dark, we start to slow down, chill out and our nervous system starts to shift. You don’t have to think about this, it happens on autopilot. It starts to shift to what’s called the para, meaning the opposite, parasympathetic side of the nervous system. 

Is Your Child Getting Enough REM Sleep?

There are two lines the pendulum has to cross that we need to be conscious of and figure out if your child is getting there or not. When you come over the center line and get towards the brake pedal side, the first line in the metaphoric sand you need to cross is to fall asleep. Then once the nervous system is calm enough to get to sleep, there’s another line it has to cross, which is to get to deep, REM, high-quality sleep. What happens when we have too much stress and are stuck, is what we call Subluxation

Subluxation simply means being stuck on the gas pedal. When you’re stuck on the gas pedal too much all day, every day and you can’t get over the line to get to sleep or it takes you too long to get into a deep sleep, that’s when this becomes a vicious cycle. When you get a bad night’s sleep, the next day is stressful and difficult because you’re tired and cranky. Then it starts to compound, snowball and leave us in a lot of trouble. 

Chiropractic Adjustments Are Key!

As chiropractors, we know exactly how to measure this.  We have the technology and tests. Maybe if your child has really struggled with sleep, you’ve gone to a sleep center and learned about sleep apnea and had other sorts of tests done. Some kids have even gone as far as getting EEGs to see what the brain is doing.  Well I’ll tell you what the brain is doing, it’s whatever the body tells it to do because the brain is one big sensory organ. And for children especially, it is sensitive to a lot of stress stacked up over a lot of time and it will get stuck in that cycle.  

So what we measure is the sleep center. We literally have sensors and a test, a computerized technology, where we can find, locate and quantify how much a child or person may be stuck in this sympathetic overdrive. It literally takes 10 minutes. There’s not even anything like an x-ray going into it. It is a sensory test that can find out if the sympathetic nervous system is fighting too much, which would mean the brake pedal, sleep calming, relaxing side of the nervous system isn’t functioning enough. 

That’s why we see sleep as such a common secondary challenge with ADHD, sensory processing disorder, our spectrum and anxiety kiddos. 

So if your child is not sleeping and struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, get quality sleep or all of those, the number one thing to do is find out if they are stuck in this parasympathetic overdrive. 

Chiropractors can find that stress and we make gentle easy adjustments to release that tension. When you release that tension that has built up over time, not only do you get the stress out of the way, we have a unique, different approach than even most chiropractors and we know exactly where to make adjustments to stimulate the calming, sleeping (it’s called the Vagus Nerve) side of the nervous system. 

Why Natural Sleep Remedies Are Not Enough

There are two other questions we get all the time from parents whose kids struggle to sleep. The first thing you may have tried are some supplements, maybe magnesium or essential oils. And if you level the supplement game even a little bit more, you may go to melatonin.  

Now I love these two little M guys. We’ve got magnesium in our house. If our kids have a busy time, they might get adjustments, magnesium, and some essential oils to help them at nighttime. But here’s why those things really work well for the Ebel kiddos… when your nervous system is balanced and in a good place, so is your absorption. Magnesium and melatonin will have a short-term effect on improving sleep for many adults and kids, but then it fades just like a medication. Medications do work a lot of times in a short period of time, unfortunately, medications come with a whole host of other side effects most of the time, whereas magnesium and melatonin generally don’t have as high of a side effect profile. 

So many of these sleep issues are neurogenic and when the nervous system is jammed up like that, so is the gut. That’s why so many of these kids have these challenges within their gut. So even if you take a load of magnesium or melatonin, it may not get in and have the same effect on your child. 

That’s why the number one side effect, (we joke that we have side effects too – they’re just all good!), we hear from parents all the time is that their kiddo is finally sleeping. And now when they’re rested, they can regulate their emotions better, they can get over that cold or respiratory virus so much easier, they can concentrate and do better with their homework and tests. They can perform better at volleyball, cross country, at the band performance, choir and football because their body is healing, recharging and repairing. 

Sleep is crucial. Stress is common. Too much stress in today’s world is also very common, but it’s not normal to struggle with sleep. 
The adjustments to relieve and get rid of that stress on the nervous system are the things that have helped thousands of patients sleep better through PWC over the years and across thousands of other chiropractic offices everywhere. Please check PX Docs to find your local Pediatric Experience Chiropractor. Let us help you get your kiddo to bed so then you can get to bed and get a better night’s sleep as well. God bless be well, let us help.


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