Sleep, Stress and Improving Your Health by Belinda Eyers, Osteopath

All Osteopaths have to complete a minimum of 30 hours CPD (continued professional development) a year. As an Osteopath in the South West, I am very fortunate to be able to enjoy the benefits of The Western Counties Society of Osteopaths (WCSO), and every year there is a very comprehensive program of lectures, usually held in some very lovely places.

On Saturday 10th March 2012, a beautiful day once the mists had cleared, the WCSO gathered for a day of lectures in the wonderful setting of Hestercombe Gardens, just outside Taunton. The day's lectures were based around the subject of Sleep, Stress and improving your health. It was a fascinating day and we learnt a number of things that will come in useful when diagnosing and treating patients!

Psychosocial barriers to improvement

Our first lecture was with Dr Claire Semple who spoke about the psychology involved in the improvement of long term conditions and injuries. She covered the basics to give us some ideas on how to help our patients with some useful tools and practical advice. This covered what is now known as Yellow Flags amongst health professionals. Yellow flags are the sort of things that are not physical, but nonetheless are factors that will affect a patients’ pathway to recovery.

These include home and family, and stress within these. Work and whether the sort and place of work is contraindicated to recovery. Money may be a major issue, not working may mean no money coming into the home, or there may be insufficient money to enable the patient to get the most appropriate treatment.

In some cases, even though it may not seem possible, the patient may not be ready to return to health. This is rarely seen in private practice, and I certainly haven’t had any patients to whom I could apply this. It is probably down to the fact that when patients come to a private practitioner, the cost implication normally indicates the desire to get well.

The Lightening Process

Alastair Gibson delivered a lecture and a workshop on a technique known as The Lightening Process. This is a training course that focuses on the science behind how the brain and body interact. Through this training you can influence your health and life and it can be of great benefit to people who suffer from chronic pain, MS, IBS/digestive system problems, insomnia, stress/depression and anxiety. It is now also being widely and successfully used in the treatment of ME.

One quote that I particularly liked from this lecture was – ‘If you can’t change things you don’t like, change how you feel about them!' I think this is excellent advice and should generally be employed by everyone with reference to everything!

There are 2 very good videos to watch on YouTube, the links are below. I would recommend watching them because even if you don’t take in what’s being said, the drawing in them is wonderful!

Never underestimate the importance of sleep 

The final lecture of the day was given by Dr Neil Stanley. He is past chairman of the British Sleep Society and has been involved in sleep research for 27 years. This was a truly fantastic talk - Dr Stanley spoke with such knowledge, passion and humour about something that could potentially be rather boring, none of those of us there noticed that we were missing the first proper spring sunshine of the year outside. He succeeded brilliantly in getting across to us the importance of proper sleep, and how imperative it is for children to get the right amount of sleep.

The UK is the worst country in Europe for sleep research, and for recognising the importance of sleep. 

Sleep is primarily for the brain, and it’s the only organ that needs sleep.

There is research available which shows that lack of sleep is responsible for a lot of everyday problems, including those of obesity and ADHD in children. Amazingly, they found in research on students they found that if you deprive someone of a relatively small amount of sleep, the following day they will immediately consume 600 calories more than normal!

We all know and understand that teenagers need a lot of sleep but research has shown that the optimum time for them to sleep is from 11-11.30 pm for 8 ½ to 9 hours (that’s official!). Were they actually allowed to do this, it would obviously make them late for school each day, so of course not all research has an immediate practical application. But it does go a long way to argue that our society has created a daily timetable by which we all live that is ultimately – and on a very basic level – completely detrimental to our health.

His final note on sleep was that: you CANNOT train yourself to need less sleep. New parents do not 'get used' to less sleep and broken nights, I’m afraid it really is a case of just getting through until you can encourage your baby to have a sustainable sleep pattern!

Research has shown that sleep is actually far more important to our health and vitality than is acknowledged in the UK. The effects of bad quality or lack of sleep is quite profound. Things we do easily and automatically everyday become difficult and far too many of us fail to appreciate that if someone is feeling ‘sleepy’ and not just ‘tired’, the effect on their ability to drive is the same as that of having drunk enough alcohol to be ‘over the limit’.

Something to remember! 

The combined effects of the three lectures reinforced the whole holistic approach that first attracted me to Osteopathy. There is not one part of the brain or body that should be ignored when trying to help a patient get back to physical health. Their state of mind as well as body has to be thought about! Lack of sleep (and the reasons for this), their situation at home, and their willingness to get better all should play a very major roll in any health practitioners diagnosis and hence prognosis

As someone very wise once said, Grant me the courage to change the things I can, the strength to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.