A friend of mine jokingly (sort of) asked me if there was a way to mobilize while sleeping, you know in order to optimize efficiency and time constraints. As of yet I have not figured out a way to do this short of falling asleep on your arm overhead and waking up with it totally asleep and I would argue this does not fall under the category of mobilization. But it did get me thinking about the relationship between sleep quality and mobility.
I cranked my shoulder awkwardly sometime last week and man has it been a pain in my tuckus to sleep. No matter what position I chose I ended up sore in the morning. So in my endless quest of supple joints and restorative sleep I decided to start stretching before bed and two things happened. For one, I got sleepy while I was stretching and two I was less sore in the morning. Eureka! Yes, it is true. I have discovered the answer to all sleep and mobility problems in the world (okay that might be a bit of a stretch but I'm going with it).
You might be thinking at this point "why did you get sleepy Emily and why mobility at night?" and furthermore you might be (better be) thinking "Emily, teach me some anatomy/science stuff to back this up!" Not to fear, here's the reasoning — stretching in a calm manner right before bed relaxes and regulates your sympathetic nervous system. This system is one of two main divisions of the autonomic nervous system. Its main purpose is to stimulate the body's fight-or-flight response, which I'm guessing y'all have heard of. Without getting too in-depth about its functions, this system controls actions like heart rate, dilation of blood vessels, activation of sweat glands, and what we are most interested in, the mediation of stress hormones like Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) and Cortisol.
Here comes the brainy stuff, hang in there. Your hypothalamus is a part of your brain that monitors and responds to stresses in the body. It oversees and normalizes things like thirst, hunger, blood pressure, and stimulates the pituitary gland. When the brain perceives stress (albeit through physical stress like an injury, lack of sleep, too much work, etc.) another part of the brain called the amygdala sends a message to the hypothalamus to fire up the fight-or-flight response. When this happens the pituitary gland in your brain releases the hormone called Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (or ACTH). ACTH then tells your adrenal glands to kick it into high gear which produces cortisol. As cortisol rises the body primes itself for a potential attack.
So here's where it goes awry. Once the perceived risk has passed (you totally crushed the sabertooth tiger with your atlas stone) the hypothalamus has the task of reversing all of the stress since it's no longer needed. So what happens if the body thinks we are in a perpetual state of stress due to lack of sleep, injury, less than great food choices, or too much work? We stay in a constant state of hyped up stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system never gets a nap.
How does this relate to mobility? As I stated up top, when I started stretching before bed I noticed that I became sleepy and relaxed. This is because through mobility exercises, some key positioning of my head, and relaxed breathing I was able to override my stimulated nervous system and tell it to chill the heck out. The exercises below are a two-for-one special. They will calm your system down, thus promoting sleep AND they will leave you more mobilized for that AM wakeup. The exercises are most beneficial when done for 5-15 min, but I understand that not all of us have an hour to stretch before bed. Honestly, if you just commit to one exercise a night you will totally reap the benefits. Here we go, let's get sleepy!
(In the following exercises I am using a bolster to prop up my hips, back, and head. You can replicate this support system with pillows and blankets or leave it out all together. Ideally, you want to be making contact with your head on something. Whether it is the floor, your arm, or the pillow does not matter.)
CHILD'S POSE W/ TWIST
LEGS UP THE WALL
Hold all postures for 5-15 min if possible. If you are experiencing pain beyond normal stretching come out, conversely you may not feel a stretch in the way that you are used to. These exercises shouldn't be excruciating, You are trying to CALM THE FRICK DOWN not jazz yourself up. This shouldn't be painful, it should be moderately enjoyable! Do your best to close your eyes, turn down the blasted fluorescent lighting, and breath. There ain't no woolly mammoths or mastodons in your living room tonight so tell that sympathetic nervous system to take a load off and get some sleep.