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Updated: May 12, 2022

These are not necessarily two subjects you'd put together; in fact, osteopathic treatment attends to the systems that invite good sleep and a rested, recovered state of body and mind.

Let's look at the barriers to sleep that we see in clinic.

Pain and anxiety are the two most common disrupters to sleep that I see in clinic every week.
There are lots things you can do to create change. Here's how.

An anxious mind

Are you lying there counting the monkeys running in the trees of your mind? You can be so tired before you go to bed, but get under the duvet and the monkey mind sets in.

When this chatter dominates, we become disconnected from the rest of our body, senses and from our own capacity to order and manage the details and relationships of our life. By letting the monkey know you recognize the urgency and importance of his message and reassuring him that you have a plan (write it down) and the ability to meet all the needs and demands at the right time, you give him, and your anxious mind, permission to relax.

Once you have named the issues and your capacity to face them, you have calmed your nervous system, so that the predictions running the anxiety show are reformed to match the reality - you can do this. And you can seek support and resources for the extra difficult stuff.

Then, the fastest way to reconnect to your body and senses is through the breath, and this is often one of the primary focuses of osteopathy, to recover the homeostatic balance and flow of body systems.

Although people don’t generally present with “I can’t sleep”, they will present with tension, headaches, neck pain, restricted limb movement – oh and they’re quite stressed and not sleeping well.

If this sounds familiar, an osteopathic treatment may include the following ways of relieving tension and restoring balance and calm:

  • Rib and thorax mobilisation – you’ve heard of flight and flight, driven by the sympathetic nervous system. Well many of the sympathetic ganglia (a landing base for nerve impulses) lie under the rib heads in your back. So, by applying gentle and rhythmic movement through the thorax and the rib heads, the sympathetic system can be down regulated. One of the benefits I find in having counseling skills alongside my osteopathy is being able to support the client’s changing narrative as the physiology shifts, helping them to notice and name what’s happening. And from this, reinforce their capacity to mobilise solutions and maintain flow in a grounded way.

  • Neck and shoulder tension are really common companions of stress and sleeplessness. Different osteopaths work in different ways, but all will get permission before they do any kind of “cracking” adjustments in your neck, and assess whether it’s appropriate and safe for your body. And honestly, this is not the be all and end all, and many osteopaths choose not to use this technique, especially in the neck. There are so many tools available to carry the system from restricted to relaxed. Attending to muscles, fascia, giving space for blood, lymph and nerves to move as they need and guiding postural habits that allow a fuller spectrum of movement, all go a really long way to relieving the build up of tension and discomfort.

  • Look to the sky and Move during the day - it's true that good sleep starts when you get up in the morning. Looking at the sky before you touch any technology has been shown to allow the brain waves to move through their natural cycles, nurturing good brain health, less anxiety and a set up for better sleep the next night. Combine this with moving, preferably part of the time in nature - even a short walk matters - and get all the juices flowing - healthy hormones that say to your brain and your body "I'm good and I've got this".

  • CBD - CBD oils have been shown to support good sleep, as well alleviating anxiety. Look for a high quality product, or ask me next time you're in clinic.

  • "I've done enough" - the day is over and you have used it the best way you had avaiablike to you. It's done, and it's enough. Saying this to yourself stops the panic of what ifs. Decide if you want tomorrow to look different; write that down. Then let it go. Tomorrow is only ready for you after your sleep.


Pain anywhere is really disruptive to daily function and a good nights sleep. Pain is your body’s way of saying “I’m not feeling safe right now”, “there’s danger”. Pain doesn’t always correlate with actual damage; our brain is simply hardwired to red flag the possibility. The key recommendations I offer my clients include:

  • Breathe – again, this changes your physiology and slows the circulation of stress hormones. It also gives you space to assess reality. Do you really need to be that tense and avoidant? Oftentimes, you have more space than the red flag suggests. Breathe and move slowly and gently, allowing your body to feel its way. In neuroscience terms, this gets you out of your fear-centred amygdala and into your pre-frontal cortex – the reasoning station.

  • Mid-range movement – you don’t have to go right to the end of your movement, especially to ”check if it still hurts there”. Some movement is enough. Enough is such an undervalued word! Movement begets movement, so during the day let your body move enough to know that it’s okay and then bit by bit it will naturally ease into more movement, supported by breathing and reinforcing your capacity-oriented messages of your mind. By the time you get to bed, your body and mind will feel safer.

  • Bolsters - when you’re in pain, the spatial orientation nerves – proprioceptors – struggle to know where the edges are. So, use supporting bolsters and cushions to give that information from the outside. In this way, you control the movement to not be at end range and you release the tension from holding and anticipating. A cushion between your knees an d a bolster (or rolled blanket) behind your back can be really comforting and easing.

  • CBD - a good #CBD balm or oil can soothe alot of aches, and the science is getting stronger all the time showing show the benefits, with risk.

At the end of the day, actively let yourself know that the day is over, you have done enough and tomorrow will be okay. Following some of the above will make this reassurance much easier, and once you sleep – it’s like spring after a long bleak winter!

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