Can Poor Head Posture Affect Your Sleep?

Many people experience problems with acquiring proper, restful sleep.  We often associate this with direct causes like stress, anxiety, or diet.  Have you ever thought about your overall daily posture and, in particular, your head position being part of the reason for poor sleep habits?  Many chronic health symptoms we experience can actually be indirect results of maladies originating in seemingly unrelated areas of the body.

How poor head posture can adversely affect your sleep. 

As a society that shifts more and more into the classic seated chair posture, many people become unaware of the poor alignment that often sets in with the head and neck.  From a gravitational perspective, the head (and its’ weight) is meant to sit OVER the spine so the upper vertebra can take the load of the skull.

Common poor posture sets in for most where the head draws forward of the spinal lines.  This places chronic tension on the entire neck – the rear aspect of neck tissues become tense and over-elongated – the neck curvature dissolves losing its’ ability to take skull loading – the front neck muscles also become undesirably strengthened – overall, a great imbalance of loading and muscle tension develops.  Result?  Neck pain!

The other common side effect of head forward posture is we tend to shift into ‘mouth breathing’ over nostril breathing.  The combination of neck pain and mouth breathing has a direct affect on overall breathing.  Chronic pain as well as mouth breathing inhibits lower lung (diaphragm) breathing.  Inefficient breathing mechanics sets in where breathing is localized in the upper lungs (called apical breathing).

Apical breathing has a cascading effect – we start to breath more rapid and shallow.  This breath pattern increases our exhalation rate and thus the venting off of carbon dioxide (CO2).  CO2, when in the blood, exists primarily as an acid – if we vent off too much of CO2 (hence the ‘acid’), our blood pH moves into a more alkaline state.

Our hemoglobins’ ability to deliver oxygen to our tissues is enhanced in an acidic environment (at the tissue level) – this is called the Bohr Effect.  When our system becomes more alkaline (due to the increased venting of CO2), oxygen delivery by the hemoglobin is inhibited.  With less oxygen available to cell tissues, the tissues shift from an efficient aerobic respiration to more anaerobic respiration.

Anaerobic respiration has been shown to increase the production and circulation of cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland.  Cortisol is typically produced in states of stress.  The general function and effects of cortisol are increased blood sugar (through gluconeogenesis), suppression of the immune system, and increased fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism.

With the body mimicking a ‘fight or flight’ state, another effect of cortisol production is the disruption of healthy sleep patterns.  With the body encountering poor sleep, the nervous system remains in a state of arousal as well fatigue tends to cause one to fall deeper in poor posture habits.  Result?  The cycle feedbacks on to itself causing sustained apical breathing and the cascading effects.

Here is a summarized version of this pathway:

*Head forward posture causes mouth breathing and pain

*body shifts into apical breathing

*increased venting off of CO2

*increased respiratory alkalosis (blood pH increases towards alkaline state)

*increased Bohr Effect leading to decreased oxygen to tissues

*increased anaerobic respiration

*increased cortisol release

*reduced ability to have restful sleep patterns

*increased arousal due to poor sleep and increased head forward posture

*further shifts into apical breathing…

Consider how you sit throughout the day.  Address issues of poor sitting posture and work ergonomics – chair height, viewing levels and angles of computers and reading material, and finding ways to take breaks to stretch and realign the body.  Besides some of the obvious benefits of improving your neck posture, maintaining better head alignment in upright and seated positions may be offer support for better sleep.

(image provided by imagerymajestic)

Five Reasons to Reduce Stress

With people needing to work more, save more, and find more time just to manage schedules, stress is becoming a chronic ailment for most people. Without recognizing the effects of stress and not having a stress management plan in place, this negative energy can produce physiology and psychological health hazards. Here are my top reasons why it is so important to reduce and manage stress.

1) Prolonged Stress Weakens the Immune System

Studies have shown that prolonged stress presents strain on the cellular functions that support the immune system. Stress causes hormone imbalances, poor sleep patterns, and wears down on organs. Suppressed immune function readily leads to increased sickness and reduced ability to combat ailments.

2) Stress Promotes Unwanted Weight Gain

Some resources suggest that increased hormone cortisol levels related to stress cause weight gain. No studies have concluded that this increased cortisol level does increase weight gain and studies suggest that the increased levels of cortisol in short to medium stress periods are insufficient for creating weight gain. However, chronic prolonged periods of stress (in terms of years) still present some possible argument towards a correlation between weight gain and stress. There is however still a strong correlation between stress and weight gain. This correlation suggests that ongoing stress patterns generate poor nutrition habits, increased use of food as a support system, and improper meal schedules.

3) Stress Hinders Proper Sleep

Studies have shown that elevations in stress-related hormones increase the prevalence of insomnia. This increase in sleep disorders was shown to be even more prevalent as people age as the sensitivity to stress-related hormones increases as we get older. Studies have also shown that people who focus on the emotions and anxiety stemming from stress more often suffered from shortened sleep and encountered more sleep deprivation issues.

4) Stress Creates Musculoskeletal and Physiological Imbalances

Stress is a highly tacking process that depletes energy from bodily systems affecting work and activity performance. Stress is often a culprit for generating muscle tension throughout the body. This muscle tension is most commonly experienced in the spine with discomfort radiating through the neck, back, and shoulders. Neck tension is often diagnosed as the source of many headaches. Stress also greatly affects digestive function, reproductive organ health, and hormone balance. One can see how readily stress generates hormone and energy imbalances especially for those who have skin disorders like acne and eczema.

5) Stress Reduces Quality of Life and Social Relationships

Most people have difficulty managing stress and associate themselves with the factors causing this stress. Without managing stress, this negative energy manifests into emotions and physical reactions. As social beings, others encountering someone else’s stress manifestations will either facilitate these stress reactions further (like attracts like) making the environment even worse. Or, those who are sensitive to others’ stress responses will choose to remove themselves from this social environment. Stress can adversely affect our relationships with others causing us to loose healthy relationships and foster further negative social relationships.

The first element in managing stress is to become sensitive to the physical responses that stress creates. Emotions and physical sensations (tension, lack of breath, headaches, low energy) are clear signs that we can monitor and use as tools to help us make changes when needed. When stress responses are apparent, we can stop, breath, and observe. How relevant and true is my allowance for this stress to enter and act on my mind and body? I may not be able to remove myself from the external stressors, but I can dissociate myself from these factors causing stress and not become bound to them. As we become more accustomed to recognizing stress, we can then engage in stress management activities like exercise, yoga, meditation, Yoga Nidra and relaxation programs offering great physical and mental benefits.