Wake Up Stiff and Sore Every Morning? Try These Adjustments to Make Sleep Swell Again

There could be a simple fix

Woman enjoying restful sleep

Ahhhh, sleep. It’s the best — unless you know you’re going to wake up in pain. Then sleep becomes something you dread. The more pain you have, the harder it is to sleep. And wouldn’t you know it: Low-quality sleep leads to greater pain.

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Could the cause of your back, neck or all-over morning pain have a simple explanation?

“When you move, the tissue surrounding your joints secretes a fluid that lubricates your joints, allowing bones to move past one another easily,” says pain medicine specialist George Girgis, DO.

“During the day, you’re moving around, which keeps the fluid flowing. But the lack of movement at night can lead to inflammation, stiffness and pain come morning.”

First, rule out conditions that cause morning stiffness and pain

If you see a doctor for your pain, he or she will likely want to do some simple screening tests to determine if immobility-induced inflammation is what’s causing it. Your doctor will want to rule out other conditions that cause inflammation of joints and tissues, such as:

  • A recent viral infection, like Lyme disease.
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Low levels of vitamin D.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.

If there isn’t an underlying condition causing your pain, it’s time to take action.

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8 strategies to help you get back to restful sleep

Update your sleep software. Sometimes you can achieve a great night’s sleep with a simple pillow adjustment. The right pillow correctly aligns the part of your spine that’s in your neck so that muscle tightness doesn’t occur when you sleep. Or you may need a new mattress. Consider a mattress an investment in your health. “We recommend a firm (but not TOO firm) mattress for the best-quality sleep,” Dr. Girgis says.

Switch up your diet. Avoid foods that promote inflammation. The Mediterranean diet, which features a lot of veggies, fruits, whole grains and seafood, may increase the antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.

Exercise (but don’t overdo it). Movement lubricates joints, which keeps pain and stiffness at bay. Be careful though: Exercising near bedtime or overtraining can lead to insomnia. “Shoot for 30 minutes a day, five days a week,” Dr. Girgis says.

Take a vitamin D supplement. Your bones and muscles need vitamin D for optimal health. Most people don’t get enough vitamin D through their diet, so talk to your doctor about choosing a supplement or foods with added vitamin D. 

Try a new sleeping position. Sleeping on your stomach could be contributing to your morning pain. Instead, sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees to keep your spine in a neutral position. Alternatively, you can sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees.

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Keep your muscles supple. Inflammation can occur when muscle mass breaks down. Find ways to maintain your muscles — gym membership not required.

“Yoga is a great way to maintain muscle mass because you’re using your body weight to keep muscles healthy,” says Dr. Girgis. “Other options may include lifting a heavy cookbook as a weight or performing squats at your desk.”

Relieve stress. Exercise, yoga and massage relieve inflammation by increasing blood flow to your muscles. You can also incorporate mindfulness meditation, which has been clinically shown to change the way your brain processes pain. Over time, pain intensity decreases with meditation. To meditate, concentrate just on breathing. If your attention wanders, return your focus to your breathing or the sounds around you. Start with a minute and build up to more time.

Stub out cigarettes for good. There are so many reasons to quit smoking, but you can add pain relief to the list. “Smoking prevents oxygenated blood from reaching bones and tissues,” says Dr. Girgis. “It also limits the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood, making the blood quality lower. The result is weakened muscles.”

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