Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Louise Carter
The arms, shoulders, spine, and neck all need a good stretch to mark the onset of a new day. This often feels amazing, and there are various reasons why.
After stretching, endorphins are released, creating a euphoric feeling. Stretching realigns muscles that loosen up during sleep and improve blood flow.
Stretching reduces feelings of grogginess and anxiety in the morning due to activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Why Does it Feel So Good to Stretch When You Wake Up?
If you’ve ever wondered if you should stretch after waking up, you definitely should.
Stretching feels good for the following reasons:
Release of Endorphins
Stretching, like physical exercise, floods the brain with endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals released by the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain) that make us feel euphoric.
Endorphins result from the brain rewarding the body, encouraging us to repeat whatever activity released them in the first place. In the case of stretching, you’ll want to stretch again, making more effort to chase the sensation it provides.
Just be mindful of pushing the quest for endorphins too soon. Rushing an attempt to flood the brain with endorphins risks making you faint and light-headed.
Stretch slowly and steadily to make the most of the pleasure it provides.
Improved Blood Flow
Good circulation is health-critical, and stretching is vital for blood flow. According to the International Heart Journal, stretching enhances heart health and benefits the entire body.
When we stretch, the body opens, allowing more oxygen to interact with the muscles and internal organs. The sooner the heart starts pumping at full capacity, the sooner you’ll feel ready for the day ahead.
Good circulation leads to a sharper body and mind. If you’re still feeling sleepy in the morning despite a long sleep, stretching will help you wake up.
A key component of sleep is the muscles’ ability to relax and repair themselves. When the body enters deep sleep, proteins are released into the blood, relieving muscle tension.
This lack of tension will be welcome in the morning, as your muscles will 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 discomfort you may experience.
Activation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System
Stretching activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The American Journal of Sports Science and Medicine explains how just 4 minutes of static stretching can spark this activity.
This part of the nervous system manages stress and anxiety, among other emotional responses. This can be invaluable, especially if you’re not a morning person.
The sympathetic nervous system will be in control if you fail to stretch, which causes fight-or-flight tension. This leads to foggy and confused thinking and high anxiety.
How To Stretch After Sleeping
Stretching when we wake up is instinctive and often happens without thinking. Consider a specific routine to embrace stretching after a long sleep.
Here are six stretches that can be used any morning:
Lunges are a stretching exercise that provides a workout for the thighs, hips, groin, and 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, knee on the floor. Think of the starter’s 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 and hold it in before lunging forward to stretch the spine.
- Hold this pose for five deep breaths.
Repeat this process around 5 times, switching foot positions with each lunge.
Rolling The Neck
Many of us wake up with stiffness in the neck, especially when adopting an uncomfortable sleeping position. Advances in Physiotherapy recommends 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 move your head straight forward, then to the right.
- You should feel the left-hand side of your neck stretching. Hold the pose for around 10 seconds.
- Roll your head to the left, stretch the right of the neck, and hold the pose again.
Repeat these rolls about 3 times in each direction, and you’ll enjoy more flexibility in your neck.
Touch The Toes
If 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 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.
- Hold this pose for up to 1 minute.
Repeat this process with the other leg to stretch your spine, thighs, and hamstrings.
Stretching The Shoulders
Opening up the shoulders is a pivotal component of stretching in the morning.
You’ll find your back 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 on your back and stretch both legs in front of you.
- Lift your right knee, holding it as close to your chest as possible.
- Hold this pose for around 30 seconds.
- Repeat this step 3 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. This will support the pelvis.
Stretching The Core
This stretch is known as the ‘cobra pose,’ which looks like a snake preparing to strike at prey. It stretches the 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, much like a push-up.
- Hold the position for 30-60 seconds.
Tilt your head backward while holding this pose to deepen the stretch.
Should You Stretch Before Sleeping?
Stretching when we wake up is pivotal to feeling our best for the day ahead.
Practice the stretches upon waking around 1 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 have other health concerns, such as bruxism. The Journal of Oral Rehabilitation believes stretching the jaw can exacerbate this issue.
Stretching after sleep is an effective way to start your day, ensuring the entire body is ready for everything. Introduce a stretching regime to your morning schedule because you’ll feel better.