What do babies, cats and dogs have in common? They all love a big stretch after a deep snooze. Many people will agree that there are few things that feel better than stretching your body first thing in the morning.
Whether you notice it or not, stretching is probably already a part of your waking routine, and sometimes you do it subconsciously. This is called pandiculation, which is our body’s natural and automatic response to prolonged muscle contractions and involuntary stretching and yawning when waking up or sitting for long periods of time.
“If you’ve ever seen a dog or baby squirm and yawn after a nap (and felt the urge to say, “Oh big stretch”), then you’ve seen pandiculation yourself,” says Michelle Ditto, Pure Bear’s training development manager. “The act of pandiculation is incredibly important for essentially ‘waking up’ the sensorimotor system before more voluntary movements, such as your first stumble from bed to the bathroom.”
Below we dive deeper into the benefits of pandiculation and morning stretches. We’ve even got you covered with some simple stretches to get you started.
Why is it important to stretch in the morning?
Pandiculation occurs primarily as “our automatic response to prevent excessive muscle tension, which is important for maintaining things like proper posture and breathing patterns,” Ditto says.
But what about the voluntary stretch? Both flexion and voluntary, routine, and specific stretches for specific joints and muscles are crucial to overall mobility and health. Stretching is one way your body keeps your fascia—or the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles, organs, and blood vessels—flexible, flexible, and full of oxygen.
Furthermore, stretching increases blood flow to wake up sleeping organs, preparing your body for all of your day’s activities. Plus, many of us often sit in front of a screen for long periods of time, and stretching can provide some “running way lotion.”
Whether involuntary or voluntary, stretching can reduce chronic back pain, increase range of motion, and reduce the risk of injury during exercise. Studies have even shown that stretching can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, induce feelings of calmness, and release endorphins.
“Taking a few moments throughout the day, and especially when you wake up, to focus purely on being in your body, in this moment, can have a domino effect throughout the rest of your day and serve as a precursor to finding other opportunities throughout your day. Move along,” Ditto said.
Easy stretches to try
After a good night’s sleep, it’s normal to wake up with a certain degree of stiffness because your body has been relatively still for hours, so morning stretches can be like oil for your muscles and joints.
“Before you even leave your bed, consider how you can add different stretches and movements, matching your body to where it is at that moment,” says Ditto. “Your bed can cushion you, support you, and ease you into the physicality of your day’s demands.”
We asked Ditto to share some of her favorite stretches–keep reading to learn how to try them yourself.
Stretch #1. “Good Morning Stretch”—stretch your arms overhead, legs extended on your bed. Take a giant breath in through your nose, shrug your shoulders up, stretch through the ribs, reach through the tips of your fingers and toes. Exhale through your mouth and aim for complete release – shoulders moving away from ears, abdominal wall relaxed, ribs engaged, legs relaxed. Repeat as desired!
Want to go one step further? Also consider your wrists and ankles. There are many small muscles in our hands and feet that we often don’t think about! Remember, if you do any amount of typing, walking, standing, or cooking, these muscles are engaged regularly throughout the day. Give them some love and attention on your stretch. Roll your wrists and ankles as you stretch. Hear a crack or two (or 12)? It is completely normal.
Stretch #2. You can do this one on your mattress! Flip your body in front of you, hands under your shoulders. As you inhale, gently bend the neck in line with the rest of your spine, keeping a soft bend in your elbows (avoid “crouching” your neck by looking up, especially if it’s an area where you feel tension when you wake up). . Exhale and slowly lower down. Repeat as needed to feel long and strong through your forward body.
Stretch #3. Take a seat on the edge of your bed, feet at the sides (if you have something to prop your feet up on, like the lip of your bed frame, go for it). Sit in a tall, proud posture. With your right arm across your body, left arm on the outside of the arm, elbows aside, drop your right shoulder from your ear – hold a breath. Place your right arm up, bend your elbow and reach between your shoulder blades, lightly touch the upper arm with the left hand, then hold for a breath. Repeat with left hand.
With your arms at your sides, look up gently (avoid craning the neck – aim to feel the length through the spine), then look down, chin toward the chest (avoid rounding the upper back). Repeat as needed.
Look forward, reach your right arm up, then reach your opposite left ear (as if your arm is draped over your head), applying gentle pressure as you tilt your head to the side, right ear toward right shoulder. Roll your left shoulder down and back, then hold a breath. Slowly look towards your right knee. Return to center and repeat with left arm.
Look forward, clasp your hands behind your back, palms together, roll your shoulders down and back as you lift your arms up, proud chest. Hold a breath.
Stretch #4. Bend your knees, feet flat on your mat, hip width apart. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Thread your hand under your left thigh. Keeping your right hip open, pull your legs toward you, keeping your legs flexed. Hold for a few breaths, focusing on releasing your back and shoulders into the mattress. Return to neutral, both feet on the mat, and repeat on the left side.
Stretch #5. Extend your legs straight up to the ceiling, flexing your legs. When it’s available to you, grab the back of your calf or thigh and slowly pull your leg toward you. Aim to keep your lower back on your bed. Hold for two deep breaths. Bend your knees outside your ribs (think knees toward your armpits). If it’s available to you, hook two fingers around your big toes, or hold the ends of your feet for a little deeper stretch. Again, with your back on the bed, focus on releasing your shoulders from your ears. You can even add a bit of a rock from side to side.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, changing your sleeping habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.