What's the first thing you do when you wake up?
Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, told HuffPost Healthy Living that your answer should be "Stretch my back!"
"The greatest incidence of slipped discs occurs within 30 to 60 minutes after we wake up," he says. "That's because we get out of bed and immediately hit the ground running."
That bowl of oatmeal and full inbox can wait. Instead, Oexman recommends taking a few minutes to "ease into the day" with some simple back stretches you can do right in bed. "Hit the snooze button only once, but don't use that time to go back to sleep," he says. "Instead, stretch out your back before you ever leave bed."
Giving up the snooze habit is also a good idea for another reason: Forcing your body to drift in and out of sleep interrupts your natural sleep patterns, chipping away at the restorative values of a good night's rest.
Things like an old, saggy mattress and even the position you sleep in can put added strain on your back overnight. But the stages of sleep also allow your muscles to relax in a way "that can actually increase stress on our ligaments, spinal discs and spinal joints," says Oexman. The following stretches, courtesy of the Sleep to Live Institute, can help your spine recover from that added stress in the morning -- and prevent painful back injuries throughout the day.
Bring both knees to the chest by first raising one and then holding the knee with both hands. Then raise the other knee. Grasping both knees, pull them down to the chest. Relax.
Lying on your back with both knees bent, cross the left leg over the right. Using both hands, pull your right knee toward your chest. You should feel a stretch in the buttocks on your left side. Repeat on the opposite side.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. In this relaxed position, the small of your back will not be touching the bed. Tighten your abdominal muscles so that the small of your back presses falt against the bed. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times and gradually build to 10 repetitions.
Lie on your back with both legs straight. Bring one knee up to your chest, pressing the small of your back into the floor (pelvic tilt). Hold for five seconds and repeats five times. Repeat on opposite leg.
The piriformis muscle runs through the buttock and can contribute to back and leg pain. To stretch this muscle, lie on your back and cross one leg over the other; gently pull the knee toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the buttock. Hold for 30 seconds. Relax. Repeat 3 times.
For more on back pain, click here.
For more on sleep, click here.