Having a stiff neck and back pain in the morning is not just about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Inadequate sleep due to health conditions such as insomnia and poor sleep hygiene can cause one to experience body pain in the morning. The remedy: sleeping right, say experts.
How poor sleep leads to body ache
Body ache is an indirect consequence of poor sleep, according to Dr Ravindra Mehta, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru. “Poor sleep leads to an overall disruption in the circadian rhythms and hormonal balances essential for good sleep,” he says. “This causes fatigue, which is associated with body pain.”
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According to Dr MS Kanwar, a senior consultant in pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, most people with the following health conditions develop severe daytime fatigue and thus have body aches:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: a condition where one stops breathing while sleeping and wakes up because of the body’s response to a lack of oxygen.
- Insomnia: a sleep disorder where one has trouble falling asleep.
- Restless legs syndrome: a neurological condition that causes restless legs, especially when at rest during the night, leading to loss of sleep.
- Narcolepsy: a neurological condition where the brain fails to control sleep.
- Idiopathic hypersomnia: a sleep disorder that causes extreme sleepiness during the day even after getting proper sleep at night.
- Fibromyalgia: perception of pain in the body that happens without a known cause.
“But in people with no underlying health condition, factors like incorrect body posture [and] poor sleep hygiene play a role in waking up with body ache,” says Dr Mehta.
Exam stress and sleep
Youngsters are among the ones who end up suffering the ill effects of a poor sleep routine — more so during exam time.
Tina Barman, a 22-year-old student from Guwahati, Assam, remembers the time she used to spend sleepless nights before exams. “I never got much sleep when exams were nearing,” she says. “Also, I had the habit of studying on the bed, and I would just fall asleep while studying when my eyes couldn’t take it any more.”
The continuous cycle of pulling all-nighters would continue well until the end of her exams. “I would wake up with body pain in the mornings, and would be fatigued the entire day,” Barman adds. “I could not study much towards the end as I was just tired.” The body ache would invariably hamper her performance on exam day.
“Acute sleep deprivation causes fatigue, decreased retention, possible memory effects, a general feeling of not being yourself, and tiredness, which leads to body ache,” says Dr Mehta.
Sleeping tips to avoid body ache
Dr Kanwar recommends the following habits to ensure you do not wake up stiff and sore:
- Maintain a supine posture while sleeping: The supine posture (sleeping on your back) is the best position to sleep in to avoid waking up with body pain. While no one has control over their sleep position, the habit of sleeping in the supine position can be developed over time.
- Use a thin pillow: It is not ideal to use thick pillows, which are bad for the neck, cervical muscles, and the vertebrae. Use a thin, soft pillow to prevent neck pain.
- Don’t use a soft mattress: Soft mattresses make it difficult to maintain a supine posture while sleeping and should be avoided.
- Take power naps: An average 15-year-old requires 10-11 hours of sleep. “We don’t see that happening during exam season,” says Dr Kanwar. “Depending on the child, a power nap break for maybe two hours will help one feel refreshed and will make up for the sleep lost.”
- Maintaining sleep hygiene: Dr Mehta says that maintaining good hydration, not overeating, sleeping at a regular time for seven to eight hours a day and physical exercise (to improve blood circulation) are important to avoid and relieve body ache.
Body ache is an indirect consequence of acute sleep deprivation, which itself can be due to an underlying health condition. It is quite common among youngsters pulling all-nighters during the exam season. Experts advise maintaining good sleep hygiene, physical exercise, power naps and a correct sleeping position to avoid and relieve body ache.