No joke. Sleeping can seem like the most dangerous activity we do and especially for anyone who has ever had the experience of waking up with a “crick” in the neck. More often than you would think, when people show up in my office with searing and immobilizing pain and I ask: “How did this happen?” I hear: “I don’t know, I just woke up with it like this!”. It usually doesn’t have as much to do with the mattress or our sleeping position as we think. These things are definitely factors but when everything is in balance, our body does a good job of tolerating suboptimal situations, for example, a softer than ideal mattress or a badly sized pillow. The main reason that we might wake in pain from doing nothing is because we either go to sleep with greater level of inflammation in our tissues than is manageable or we are unable to allow the muscles to completely relax while sleeping.
Quite a few years ago one of my patients showed up in my office complaining that she was feeling fine – no sign of pain or stiffness for months before now, and then she finds herself waking up from a dream in which she remembers vigorously and extensively re-arranging her living room furniture – so much so that the first thing she did was to look at her living room to see if she really did it. Her furniture was exactly as she’d left it before bedtime, but now she found herself sore and stiff from head to toe but in particular she was feeling lower back pain as though she had been lifting something…
This is an example of how active our body can be when we think we are resting. The neuroendocrine system is often simply behaving in response to our body chemistry and it’s not uncommon to sleep a full night and not feel physically rested because of an imbalance in our biochemistry that the body is trying unsuccessfully to remedy.
So, what can you do if this happens to you? You probably will need some outside help correcting the resulting mechanical imbalance at play, but you will also need to address the reason this happened in the first place. Sleeping positions are one of the hardest things to modify and because of how important sleep is over all else, I do not push my patients to make changes unless we’ve addressed the underlying biochemical issues first.
For a quick general overview of things that may need troubleshooting I can tell you that aside from mattress and pillow logistics here are some things that need further investigating:
1. What’s adding to your inflammatory load? (what are you eating or exposed to and how well are you eliminating?)
2. What’s keeping your muscles from relaxing? (how’s your stress, your electrolyte/mineral balance and water intake?)
3. How’s the temperature in your bedroom? (too hot or too cold can cause the body to stay tense)
Check out my next post for an in depth look at all three factors and then some – to see how you can handle this situation and try to keep it from happening again.