The first thing most of us do when we wake up in the morning is stretch.
Arms, shoulders, spine, neck – all these body parts need a good workout to mark the onset of a new day. This often feels fantastic, and there is a good reason why.
After stretching, endorphins are released, creating a euphoric feeling. Stretches realign muscles that loosen up during sleep and improve blood flow.
Also, stretching fends off feelings of grogginess and anxiety in the morning due to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
If you’ve ever wondered if you should stretch after waking up from a long sleep, the answer is a firm yes. Not all stretches are equal, though. Knowing how to make the most of a stretching opportunity in the morning can set you up for a great day ahead.
Why Does it Feel So Good to Stretch When You Wake Up?
Stretching feels great for four different reasons, each of which is as important as the last:
Release of Endorphins
Stretching, like physical exercise, floods the brains with endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals released by the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain) that leave us feeling euphoric.
Endorphins result from the brain rewarding your body, encouraging us to repeat whatever activity released them in the first place. In the case of stretching, you’ll wish to stretch again, making more effort to chase the sensation it provides.
Just be mindful of pushing the quest for endorphins too quickly. If you rush an attempt to flood the brain with endorphins, you risk becoming faint and light-headed.
Stretch slowly and steadily to make the most of the pleasure it provides.
Improved Blood Flow
Circulation is essential to our everyday health, and stretching is key to good blood flow.
According to the International Heart Journal, a good stretch can also enhance heart health, quickly benefiting the rest of your body.
When we stretch, the body opens and allows more oxygen to interact with muscles and internal organs. The heart is no exception. The sooner your heart starts pumping at full capacity, the faster you’ll feel ready for the day ahead.
With good circulation comes a sharper body and mind. If you find that you’re still feeling sleepy in the morning, despite a long sleep, stretching will go some way to helping you wake up.
Blood will flow to the brain, making cognitive reasoning considerably easier.
A key component of sleep is the chance for muscles to relax and repair themselves from a day’s wear and tear. When the body enters deep sleep, amino acids and proteins are released into the blood, relieving tension within any muscles.
This lack of tension will be welcome in the morning, as your muscles will theoretically be pain-free, but it comes at a price. Your core muscles will be comparatively weak, even if only in the short term. Without stretching, your posture may be impacted.
The Journal of Physical Therapy Science explains that stretching can return your muscles to their position, reducing any pain that you may otherwise experience.
Essentially, a morning stretch restores your body to its factory settings.
Activation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The final reaction that stretching provokes within the body is activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The American Journal of Sports Science and Medicine explains how just four minutes of static stretching can spark this activity.
This part of the nervous system is responsible for managing stress and anxiety, among other emotional responses. This can be invaluable, especially if you’re not a morning person. Starting a day can feel overwhelming, but stretching counters this.
The sympathetic nervous system will take the wheel if you fail to stretch. That’s the last thing anybody wants or needs first-thing, as it essentially puts you directly into a state of fight-or-flight tension. This leads to foggy and confused thinking, as well as high anxiety.
How to Stretch After Sleeping
Stretching when we wake up is instinctive and often happens before thinking about it. To fully embrace the qualities of stretching after a long sleep, consider a particular stretching routine.
Here are six stretches that can be used any morning:
Lunges are arguably the most common stretching exercise. Lunges provide a workout to your thighs, hips, groin, and most importantly, your core.
To undertake lunges, get out of bed, shake your limbs to loosen them up, and follow these steps:
- Crouch on the ground, one leg bent forward and the other behind you with the knee on the ground. Think of the starters position that a sprinter adopts ahead of a race.
- Place your hands beside your front foot. If you prefer to keep your hands off the ground, lay them on your knees.
- Take a deep breath, hold it, and lunge forward to stretch out your spine.
- Hold this pose for five deep breaths.
Repeat this process around five times, switching foot positions with each lunge.
Rolling the Neck
Many people wake up with stiffness in the neck, especially if adopting an uncomfortable sleeping position. Advances in Physiotherapy recommend purchasing a specialist pillow for neck pain.
Here’s how to roll the neck:
- Take a seat and sit bolt upright, ears above your shoulders.
- Steadily roll your head straight forward, then to the right.
- You should feel the left-hand side of your neck stretching. Hold the pose for around ten seconds.
- Roll your head to the left, stretching the right-hand side of the neck, and hold the pose again.
Repeat these rolls around three times in each direction, and you’ll enjoy considerably more flexibility in your neck during the day ahead.
Touching Your Toes
If the idea of touching your toes brings back traumatic memories of gym class, don’t worry. This exercise is much easier than the task assigned back in your high school years. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit with one leg in front of your body and tuck the other leg under your thigh.
- Take a deep breath, hold it, and lift your hands over your head.
- Slowly release the breath as you lean forward as far as possible.
- If you can do so, touch your toes while stretching. If not, get as close as possible.
- Hold this pose for up to one minute.
Repeat this process with the other leg to enjoy an excellent stretch for your spine, thighs, and hamstrings. You’ll feel considerably more mobile after such efforts.
Stretching the Shoulders
Opening up the shoulders is a pivotal component of stretching in the morning.
You’ll find your back considerably more supple and pliable if you stretch your shoulders. The following stretch will also help your hips.
Here’s how to stretch your shoulders:
- Lay upon your back and stretch both legs in front of you
- Lift your right knee, holding it as close to your chest as you can comfortably manage
- Hold this pose for around thirty seconds
- Repeat this step three times, then do the same with your left knee
If you feel any resistance in your lower back or lumbar regions, flex your opposite leg rather than keeping it straight, as this will offer support to the pelvis.
Stretching the Core
This stretch is known as the ‘cobra pose’ as it looks a little like a snake preparing to strike at prey.
It’ll provide a full stretch of your entire core, working the muscles in your chest, neck, shoulders, and abs.
Here’s how to stretch the core:
- Position yourself on your stomach with your hands level with your shoulders and arms against your chest, akin to starting a push-up
- Lift your body with your elbows bent, again, much like a push-up
- Hold the position for around thirty seconds – a full minute if you can
Tilt your head backward while holding this pose if you feel comfortable doing so. This will deepen the stretch and provide even more benefits.
Should You Stretch Before Sleeping?
As established, stretching when we wake up is pivotal to feeling our best for the day ahead.
Practice the stretches upon waking around an hour before bed, ideally just as you start your pre-bedtime ritual. These exercises will relax your muscles and encourage you to fall asleep.
Be wary of stretching before sleep if you live with other nocturnal concerns, such as bruxism. The Journal of Oral Rehabilitation expresses concern that stretching the jaw can worsen this issue. Give your body time to cool down after stretching, too.
Stretching after sleep is a great way to start your day, ensuring that your entire body – inside and out – is ready for whatever the world throws at you. Bring a stretching regime into your morning schedule, as you’ll feel considerably better.