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6 Common Causes of Morning Stiffness and What to Do About It

Hey!  I hope you’re having a great day!

Did you wake up this morning feeling stiff or sore?  If you didn’t consider yourself lucky.  Many people struggle with this common problem and can often get terribly discouraged by it despite the fact that the stiffness seems to go away as the day moves on.

But what causes this extremely common phenomenon?  Here are some things to consider.

1) Sleeping position.  Roughly one third of our life will be spent in bed and not all sleep positions are safe for the body.  In fact, some can create significant physical stress.

For example, sleeping on your back for many people can position the spine in an overly arched position, causing excessive stress on the lower back.  This can often be moderated by a pillow under the knees but it may also require the purchase of a new mattress that is either more or less firm.  This may require some trial and error.  The use of certain pillows may create stress on the neck as well. Some people respond well to contoured pillows but will need to test different heights of the arch to find the one that works best.

Side sleepers can also have challenges.  Sleeping on the side can causes the pelvis to tilt laterally and can potentially cause lower back and hip stress that is felt upon arising.  This can often be moderated with a pillow between the knees but some testing will need to be done to see which thickness of pillow is ideal for your body type.  For some side sleepers, a new mattress may also provide some relief.

Stomach sleepers will probably have the most problems because of the position of the neck and shoulders.  I’d advise stomach sleepers to try to ween themselves towards other sleep postures if possible.

Overall I recommend sleeping on your back with a contoured neck pillow and a thick pillow under your knees.  This would be the least risky position for most people.


2) Tossing and turning during the night.  For many people, nighttime is full of tossing, turning and continual changing of body position.  Of course because this happens while you are asleep there may not be a lot you can do about it, but it is often because you are not in a deep state of sleep throughout most of the night.  If this happens to you than you may want to try a melatonin or 5-HTP supplement before bed to help you get into a deeper sleep state.

You may also want to monitor your sleep with a device like a Fit Bit or through a smartphone app like Sleep Cycle so you can measure your sleep quality.  These devices measure the total movement during sleep and can tell when you are sleeping deeply and when you are not.  This will give you feedback to tell you if the supplements are working.


3) Lack of joint lubrication.  Our joints are made for movement and they require lubrication to do so similar to how car engine parts need oil.  When movement ceases, the lubrication on the joint surfaces begins to dry up.

Picture a sponge full of water.  When there is no pressure put on the sponge, the water stays inside the sponge.  When there is pressure on the sponge, the water seeps out.  Your joints have a similar mechanism.

The ends of your bones are lined with cartilage that has a spongy consistency.  The cartilage absorbs the fluid that allows your joints to move freely without friction and until there is pressure put onto the cartilage, the fluid mostly stays inside.

In order to get this fluid out, we have to move our joints and create pressure.  This may mean getting up and moving around for a few minutes but it may also be sufficient to do a few gentle exercises in bed to move your joints around.  This is even more critical if you have arthritis because that is a condition where you have even less cartilage so you will feel the lack of lubrication even more.

Try doing a few exercises when you wake up tomorrow morning and if you need help figuring out which ones, shoot me an email.

On the same note, make sure you are drinking 1/2 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day because if not than you will likely not have enough lubricant to allow your joints to move freely without stiffness and soreness.


4) Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  Have you ever done a hard workout and felt fine afterwards but the next morning woken up sore in the muscles you worked?  This is an extremely common occurrence and it is experienced by many people.

Your body does much of the repair process on stressed muscles during sleep and this is usually when our body will trigger an inflammatory response that will cause a feeling of soreness.  The soreness usually isn’t felt until you wake up and will often be most pronounced immediately upon arising.   Sometimes it will linger for a few hours or even for a few days but often it will subside quickly when there is an increase in muscle blood flow.

This will sometimes be moderated by some light exercises so you may need to do some before getting out of bed or soon after you get up.  The degree of DOMS you feel will often be correlated to the degree of muscle use from the previous day so keep that in mind on the days you do housework, yard work, exercise or play sports.


5) Stress.  Studies show that stress can cause excess muscle tightness and increase sensations of pain.  Very often, bedtime is a time when we experience stress because of lying in bed and thinking about situations that are stressful.  If you go to bed this way, you may wake up in a more stressed state which can affect how you feel.  This will often affect the depth of your sleep as well which will add to tossing and turning.

Using relaxation techniques and some deep breathing before bed can be a help. Also viewing or reading something light, uplifting or funny before bed can help.  I’d try to stay away from action movies, reading stressful emails or from watching the news shortly before bed as they can cause a peak in your stress response.


6) Muscle weakness.  Each muscle has a unique role in protecting joints, connective tissues and other muscles from physical stresses that could harm them and cause pain.  There are over 650 muscles in the body and they all need to be working well and be strong.  Because of weaknesses in the muscles our bodies can be more vulnerable and susceptible to the physical stresses which can exacerbate problems caused by other factors on this list.  Getting you muscles checked and exercising them regularly is essential to reduce stiffness and soreness.

As you can see by this list, the causes of this extremely common problem can be vast. Trying to address each of these factors to the best of your ability is your best bet for keeping the issue at bay.  I’ve found from coaching people in these various areas that there is not always one factor that makes the biggest difference, it is often a combination of them.

Happy sleeping…and waking!


1 Comment

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