The magic of chiropractic care for children and infants rests in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS is split into 2 primary divisions: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic. The Sympathetic division is your SURVIVAL mode - Fight or Flight, go-go-go. The Parasympathetic division is your THRIVE mode - Rest and Digest, eating-sleeping-pooping. We want both systems to be working well, but we should be able to come in and out of Sympathetic Survival mode as needed and should be spending the majority of our time in Parasympathetic Thrive mode, especially in the first few years of life.
Just like adults can be revving too high and doing too much, infants and children can present with Sympathetic Dominance (or Dysautonomia) as well. In children, however, it’s different. Their nervous systems and their chemistry are new, raw, and immature. They are constantly creating new neuronal connections, learning, and setting their chemical “defaults”. This is one of the reasons why, even though we don’t consciously remember it, the first few years are so critical to shaping who we are as people and building our resilience to stress in the long term.
Where do we come in?
Chiropractic adjustments (CMT) and CranioSacral Therapy (CST) are very good at boosting the Parasympathetic division and balancing the Autonomic Nervous System. In research studies, we can measure changes in breathing rates, heart rates, blood pressure, and even cortisol levels. In clinical practice, we see improvements in bowel habits, sleep patterns, eating behaviours, mood, and so much more! By boosting THRIVE mode and removing any barriers to Autonomic function, we allow your little one to experience their best expression of life.
What else can impact sleep?
The short answer: EVERYTHING. Sleep disruption can be a primary problem, a symptom of another area out of balance, or a matter of habit. If a dysfunctional sleep pattern is a learned behaviour, great! Then you can retrain and learn new patterns. On the other hand, if a sleep problem is part of a bigger issue on a neurological or chemical level, you are going to experience a lot of resistance and frustration trying to reprogram based on habits alone. Constipation, GI dysfunction, and food sensitivities or allergies all directly impact sleep capacity. Being stuck in Sympathetic overdrive or dominance will have a huge impact on sleep and stress response. Environmental stressors play an important roll in nervous system function in children as well.
How do chiropractors support sleep?
We remove barriers. In our office, we work with families to remove neurological and chemical resistance to optimal function. Every child is unique, so our care is catered to each individual patient. Usually, we apply a blend of chiropractic care, craniosacral therapy, clinical nutrition, and lifestyle modification. Often times there are shifts in whole family dynamics and we end up caring for parents, caregivers, and siblings as well! We all need good sleep to be our best version of ourselves.