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Waking up with my body aching all over is one of my daily struggles, even when I wake up feeling rested. I struggle with keeping a consistent sleep routine because of my one-week-a-month mandatory insomnia, sometimes 10 days a month even, work, and my overactive imagination.
I sleep on an orthopedic mattress, but even when I wake up feeling well-rested, my shoulder, back, legs, neck, or hip bone will hurt or get stuck in an uncomfortable position. Which spoils my mood and performance throughout the day.
At first, I thought it was because I was sleeping with a bad pillow or sleeping in weird positions. I have 4 pillows now, all placed around my body, and I sleep on my side or back, I don’t move during sleep. So where is the pain coming from? The only possible explanation was that I wasn’t moving my body enough.
Over the past few years, I have struggled with maintaining an exercise routine. Mostly because I do not enjoy most of the home exercises I’ve tried and I cannot see myself lifting weights yet (the gym scares me). I do perform other types of movement, like walking and stretching after the workouts I do once or twice a month *close eyes emoji*. I enjoyed the pre- and post-workout stretches though, so, I decided to add stretching to my routine. So far I have stretched 10 days out of the 20 days of January.
When I set the goal to stretch, I did so to increase my mobility and flexibility, and add more activity to my lifestyle. The first benefit I have noticed though was that there is no more pain when I wake up from sleep. This should not have been surprising because stretching has been found to help you fall asleep faster, and increase the quality of your sleep. This is likely because stretching helps relieve muscle tension and improves mindfulness. On top of that, I have found the breathing aspect of stretching helps me release stress and anxiety.
How I created a bedtime stretching routine
My bedtime routine has all the self-care elements of winding down. The only form of movement involved was lying down on my bed, stretching has never been a part of my routine. To make sure I stretched, I knew it had to be a routine that is short and convenient to do. Something that will not need workout clothes or a yoga mat. I did not even follow a YouTube video. Rather, I performed stretches I recalled from memory since it hasn’t been long since I stopped working out (*cough 2 months). My stretching routine involves these stretches starting from the top of my head to my feet:
1. Neck roll
2. Shoulder roll
3. Overhead Arm Stretch
4. Chest stretch
5. Touch your toes
6. Lean back
7. Side-to-side bend
8. Hip circles
9. Leg circles
10. Hamstring stretch
11. Ankle circles
12. Full-body top stretch
Just before lying down, with only my fairy lights illuminating my bedside, I perform all the stretches while standing, some require me to lean on my closet door for support. I do not hold the positions or do the stretches for a certain amount of time, just until the tension in that area of my body is released. Off the top of my head, I would say it takes 30 seconds or a minute at most for some of the stretches.
How bedtime stretches ended up affecting my sleep
The first night I stretched, my body didn’t quite relax yet, I woke up with pain in my hip (it’s not old age, I’m 21). The second and third times, I felt relieved from the day’s stress, and I felt my joints loosen. I was very happy about this because I always find it harder to sleep when I’m still stressed. I kept stretching every other day on the high of just feeling better, then after the eighth time I realized it’s been a few days since I last had my normal morning aches.
On the days I didn’t stretch, while I still found it easier to fall asleep than during my pre-stretching period, my body felt tenser.
Honestly, I did not expect results from stretching just 5 minutes a day 50% of the time, and certainly not this soon. I am thrilled with the results and I will move stretching to my permanent routine from now on. I’m aiming for 5 times a week, then I’ll make it a daily (nightly) thing.
Along with improved sleep, I’ll be watching out for progress in flexibility and mobility. Maybe I’ll be able to do the slits one day, or even touch my toes when I do the touch-my-toes stretch.
What exercise or health tips have you tried and got unexpected results from?