What do babies, cats, and dogs have in common? They all love a big stretch after a deep snooze. Many people would 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 likely already a part of your wake-up routine and sometimes you may even do it subconsciously. This is called pandiculation, which is our bodies’ natural and automatic response to prolonged muscle contraction and is the act of involuntarily stretching and yawning when waking up or being sedentary for a long time.
“If you have ever seen a dog or baby stretch and yawn after a nap (and felt the urge to say “oooh big stretch”), you have seen pandiculation firsthand,” says Michelle Ditto, training development manager at Pure Barre. “The act of pandiculating is incredibly important to essentially ‘wake up’ the sensorimotor system prior to more voluntary movements, such as stumbling from your bed to the bathroom first thing.”
Below we dive deeper into pandiculation and the benefits of morning stretches. We’ve even got you covered on some simple stretches to get you started.
Why is it important to stretch in the morning?
Pandiculation essentially occurs as “the automatic response we have to prevent too much tension in the muscles, which is important to maintain things like proper posture and breathing patterns,” says Ditto.
But what about voluntary stretching? Both pandiculation and voluntary, routine, and specific stretches for particular joints and muscles are crucial to overall mobility and health. Stretching is one way that your body keeps your fascia—or the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles, organs, and blood vessels—supple, flexible, and full of oxygen.
Furthermore, stretching increases blood flow to wake up sleepy limbs, preparing your body for all the activities of your day. Plus, many of us often end up sitting in front of a screen for long periods and stretching can provide some “lotion by way of motion.”
Whether involuntary or voluntary, stretching can reduce chronic back pain, increase range of motion, and decrease the risk of injury during exercise. Studies have even shown that stretching can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, induce feelings of calm, and release endorphins.
“Taking moments throughout the day, and particularly upon waking, to focus purely on being in your body, in the moment, can have a domino effect on the rest of your day, and can act as a precursor to finding other opportunities throughout your day to move as well,” says Ditto.
Simple stretches to try
After a night’s sleep, it’s normal to wake up with a certain degree of tightness as your body has been relatively static for hours, so a morning stretch can be like oil for your muscles and joints.
“Before you even leave your bed, consider how you can add various stretches and movements, meeting your body where it’s at in that moment,” says Ditto. “Your bed can cushion you, support you, and ease you into the physicality your day demands.”
We asked Ditto to share some of her favorite stretches–keep reading to learn how to try them out yourself.
Stretch #1. The “Good Morning Stretch”—extend your arms overhead, legs long on your bed. Take a giant breath in through your nose, shrug your shoulders up, expand through the ribcage, reach through the tips of your fingers and toes. Exhale through your mouth and aim to fully release—shoulders shrugged away from ears, abdominal wall relaxed, ribcage connected, feet relaxed. Repeat as desired!
Want to go a step further? Consider your wrists and ankles, too. There are so many little 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 consistently throughout the day. Give them some love and attention in your stretches. Roll your wrists and ankles out as you expand. Hear a crack or two (or 12)? It’s totally normal.
Stretch #2. You can do this one on your mattress! Flip over to your frontside body, hands under your shoulders. On an inhale, gently press up, keeping a soft bend in your elbows, neck in line with the rest of your spine (avoid “crunching” your neck by looking up, especially if this is a place you tend to feel tension upon waking). Exhale and slowly lower. Repeat as needed to feel long and strong through your frontside body.
Stretch #3. Take a seat on the edge of your bed, feet over the side (if you have something to plant your feet on, like the lip of your bed frame, go for it). Sit up in a tall, proud posture. Reach your right arm across your body, left hand to the outside of the arm, avoiding the elbow, drop your right shoulder out of your ear—hold for a breath. Reach your right arm up, bend your elbow, and reach between your shoulder blades, light touch to the upper arm with the left hand, then hold for a breath. Repeat with the left arm.
Place your hands by your sides, gently gaze up (avoid crunching the neck—aim to feel long through the spine), then gaze down, chin towards chest (avoid rounding the upper back). Repeat as needed.
Look forward, reach your right arm up, then reach for your opposite left ear (like your arm is draped over your head), Apply gentle pressure as you tilt your head to the side, right ear toward right shoulder. Roll your left shoulder down and back, then hold for a breath. Slowly look down toward your right knee. Come back to center and repeat with the 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 for a breath.
Stretch #4. Bend your knees, feet flat on your mattress, hip width apart. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Thread your hands underneath your left thigh. Gently pull your legs towards you, keeping your right hip open, feet flexed. Hold for a few breaths, focusing on keeping your lower back and shoulders released into the mattress. Come back to neutral, both feet on the mattress, and repeat on the left side.
Stretch #5. Extend your legs straight up to the ceiling, flex your feet. If it is available to you, grab behind your calves or thighs, and slowly pull your legs toward you. Aim to keep your lower back on your bed. Hold for two deep breaths. Bend your knees outside your ribcage (think knees toward your armpits). If it is available to you, hook two fingers around your big toes, or grab for the edges of your feet for a bit deeper stretch. Again, focus on keeping your back on the bed, shoulders released out of 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, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.