Sleep Struggles – What’s the Story?

Topics Covered: sleep
By Dr. Tony Ebel, DC, CPPFC, CCWP
Sleep Struggles - What's the Story? | PX Docs

One of the biggest challenges parents inquire 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, and 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.

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, 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, mental, and social pressure from 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. They may have struggled with colic, chronic ear infections, immune challenges, and constipation, and most of these kiddos end up dealing with 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, a 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 it 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 are trying to fall asleep.

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?

It’s important to pay attention to the two lines that a pendulum has to cross when it comes to your child’s sleep. The first line is when they fall asleep, and the second line is when they reach deep, restful sleep. The stress that may be preventing them from crossing these lines, it’s known as 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 too long to get into a deep sleep, that’s when the vicious cycle begins. 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. If your child has really struggled with sleep, you may have gone to a sleep center and had sleep tests done or EEGs on the brain.

But we know what the brain is doing – it’s doing whatever the body tells it to do because the brain is one big sensory organ. For children especially, it is sensitive to a lot of stress stacked up over a lot of time.

Neurologically focused chiropractors measure the “sleep center” using our INSiGHT scans. We can find, locate and quantify how much a child or person may be stuck in this sympathetic overdrive – and it only takes 10 minutes.

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

If your child is struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, get good quality sleep, or all of those, the number one thing to do is find out if they are stuck in this parasympathetic overdrive. 

Chiropractors find that stress and make gentle, easy adjustments to release that tension. When we release that tension that has built up over time, not only do we get the stress out of the way, we are also able to stimulate the vagus nerve which is the calming, sleeping side of the nervous system.

Why Natural Sleep Remedies Are Not Enough

When talking about sleep struggles, many parents also inquire about supplements such as magnesium or melatonin.

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 for a short period of time, unfortunately, medications usually come with a whole host of other side effects, 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 also have these challenges within their gut. So even if you give your child magnesium or melatonin, it may not be able to get into their gut and have the same impact as it should.

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. 

Once children start with chiropractic care, the number one “side effect” we hear from parents is that their kiddo is finally sleeping. And now that they’re rested, they can regulate their emotions better, recover from colds or respiratory viruses easier, and concentrate and do better with homework and tests. Their body is healing, recharging, and repairing. 

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 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 and be well.

Dr. Tony Ebel is the lead writer and educational guide for PX Docs. He is a Certified Pediatric + Wellness Chiropractor with 15 years of clinical experience. In addition, Dr. Tony has been teaching and training other Pediatric + Family Chiropractors for the past 10+ years, primarily teaching the clinical protocols he created for pediatric neurodevelopmental challenges such as Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Epilepsy, Anxiety, and more. This clinical program is now taught in collaboration with the Life University Postgraduate Department and has over 500 graduates. Dr. Tony’s passion is educating, empowering, and informing parents about the nervous system's role in natural, drug-free healing for all pediatric conditions and cases.

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