The Reason You Feel Stiff When You Wake Up—and How to Avoid It
Get relief for your stiff neck and back with these bedtime stretches.
It happens to the best of us. You go to bed feeling great, and then somewhere in the land of nod, something wonky happens. Maybe you slept on one too many pillows. Or you managed to contort your limbs under the covers. Either way, when you open your eyes, ready to start the day, you notice some stiffness here, and some tightness there. What gives?
According to David Reavy of React PT in Chicago, the typical cause of stiffness is keeping your muscles in a shortened position for a prolonged period of time. "Sleeping in general—unless you are a restless sleeper—puts your body in the same position for eight hours," Reavy points out. If it happens to be a funny position, you might wake up with some discomfort: “Imagine your head side bent at 45 degrees for eight hours while you're standing. Your neck would feel terrible,” says Reavy.
But luckily, you can help ward off unwanted aches, by prepping your muscles with releases and stretches before bed, says Reavy. Try his recs, which target the most common sources of soreness—a stiff neck and a stiff back—so you can wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated rather than rigid.
For the back
Hip flexor release
Lie facedown with lacrosse ball just below left hipbone, placing as much weight as tolerable on ball. Bend left knee back to 90-degree angle. Swing left leg from side to side in a tolerable range of motion. Repeat for 30-seconds to two-minute intervals, and then switch sides and repeat.
King cobra stretch
Lie facedown with hands at sides, and slightly wider than chest-width; palms turned out slightly. Slide right leg up, forming a 90-degree angle. Push into hands until arms are straight, lifting shoulders off floor; keep shoulder blades down and back and glutes squeezed. Hips should remain on floor with elbows close to sides. Look up and twist torso to right. Return to start and repeat on tother side.
Recurs femoris stretch
Stand tall with legs hip-width apart. Bend right knee, bringing right foot towards glutes and grabbing ankle. Keep knees aligned below hips with abs tight. Pull foot towards glutes until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds then release. Repeat on other leg.
For the neck
Face a wall with ball on chest below collarbone and about two inches away from armpit. Lean into ball, placing as much weight as tolerable on it. Shift side to side. Tender spot? Move arm and shoulder forward, back, up and down, leaning into ball. Continue for about 45 seconds.
Upper trap release
Stand with shoulder under bar or with lacrosse ball placed half way between neck and edge of shoulder on the restricted side. Move left and right until you find a tender area. Next, shrug shoulder up and down for 45 seconds or until the tension resolves.
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Stand tall with feet shoulder-with apart. Grab ends of resistance band with each hand, pulling until taut, to form a “T” with body; squeeze shoulders blades together. Keeping this position raise arms and turn palms forward, and then bring band behind the back forming a "T"; squeeze shoulders blades together.