Question MarkWhen you’re stressed, or pensive, or just have a habit of holding your shoulders up/tensing up, it can become a default position for your muscles.

The reasons that people wake up with a sore neck and shoulders can have a lot of different reasons, and often those muscles do need some sort of targeted release before you’ll really feel better.

But sometimes a factor, is, surprisingly – just habit.

You may actually be tensing up your muscles while you’re asleep.

It first became obvious when I was laying in bed one night, thoughts furiously running around my brain in a sort of ‘what do I need to think about most’ relay race. (Can you relate?)

For some reason, as I was frustratedly trying to shut my brain up, I noticed that I felt like I was holding on to my shoulders.

I felt tense.

I mean, my shoulders were up near my ears, but not in a relaxed, gravity’s got a hold of them kind of way.

As an experiment, I took a deep breath, and tried to relax.

To my surprise, when I focused on ‘letting go of everything’ as I exhaled, my head sunk into the pillow. I had been holding my head up off the pillow, and my shoulders up near my head!

Trying again to fall asleep, my thoughts again took over.

But – what was that? My neck and shoulders had tensed up again.

Noticing this in myself more and more – especially on days that had been particularly stressful – I started asking my clients who were waking up with neck pain, to check their neck and shoulders in the evening.

Was it just me, or was this something that happened to everyone?

Turns out, it wasn’t just me.

It seems to be more common when going through a stressful period of life, anything that increases anxiety or general tension.

Now how about you…

Do You Hold Tension While You Sleep?

Neck massage
Do you need a neck massage after you’ve slept?

This is how you find the answer:

As you fall asleep, take a minute to check yourself for tension.

Take a nice, slow deep breath in (try to count to four).

As you exhale, let go of your head, your neck, your shoulders, and your face (I know, it sounds weird, but you’d be surprised how many people scrunch up their face when they’re not thinking about it).

You could also check hands, feet, and hips.

If you notice your head sinks lower into the pillow, or your shoulders drop, or anything else feels a little heavier in your bedding – you’re holding tension without realising it.

And it’s probably not the first time – nor will it be the last.

Check in with yourself a few more times as you’re falling asleep – it’s like this tension is a habit that, when you’re not paying attention, your body slides back into.

By doing it a few times as you fall asleep, to start teaching your brain and body that holding that muscle tension isn’t necessary.

A few don’ts

The one thing that really defeats the purpose of this exercise is preventing yourself from falling asleep to catch yourself tensing up again.

Don’t let yourself check more than 3 or 4 times – any more and you’ll probably end up tensing up because you’re worried about tensing up!

Now that you know, try it tonight, as you’re falling asleep, to see if you have some tension.

If the answer is yes, where did you find that you could let go? Where were you holding tension?

And, did you feel like you slept differently, or woke up any less tight, stiff or sore than you usually do?


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