• Sleep: The Enemy of Back Pain?

    photo credit to martinak15 How many mornings have you awoken to throbbing, stabbing, or aching back pain? Or perhaps your mornings have been the opposite—your back feels fine, but once you start moving, the pain comes rushing in.

    You’re not alone. You can’t be, since we’re writing this post! Just how does sleep affect back pain? Are there ways to sleep without making it worse?

    How Sleep Positions Can Make Pain Worse

    photo credit to Adikos If your back hurts as soon as your eyes open, it’s a clue that you’re sleeping in the wrong position for your body. For example, do you ever have a night where you’re pretty sure you didn’t move because you were so tired? Did you wake up sore? Lying in the same position for hours at a time not only cause stiffness—it’s often the explanation for the standard “crick” in the neck.

    The idea is that your muscles are affected by your sleep position . When you lay in one position for too long in the night—especially if that position was hard on your muscles to begin with—you will cause muscle strain. That strain can lead to the pinching of a nerve, which is why you wake up with pain.

    Sleep Positions that Can Cause Back Pain

    Ok, so you know why sleeping can make back pain worse. But which sleeping positions make it worse? This list of positions explains which ones are worse than others. Stomach sleeping is pretty hard on the spine, for one. In this position, your spine isn’t supported by any external force—meaning all night long, your back muscles struggle to hold everything in place. Since nighttime is when you want all your muscles to relax so they are refreshed for action the next day, you need to find a position that supports the spine.

    The Best Sleep Positions

    photo credit to epSos .de If you want to support your spine at night, consider sleeping on your back. In this position, your spine is obviously getting full support. The only things to consider when sleeping on your back are the tendency to cock out a knee, which twists the pelvis, and getting a flat pillow, since a thick pillow will push your neck up at an unnatural angle.

    Side sleeping, however, is probably the easiest on your spine. Although you aren’t sleeping with anything directly supporting the spine, it feels supported through your side. Simply place a pillow between your knees to keep the pelvis in alignment, and make sure your pillow supports your neck so that it’s extended evenly on both sides. More in-depth descriptions about these positions can be found at this website .

    How do you sleep?

    If you have morning back pain, you know that the culprit is most likely your sleep position. If you’ve been given a chronic back pain diagnosis, like stenosis or degenerative disc disease, check out this list of sleep positions tailored to support the spine for specific diseases.

    Are you one of our morning back pain readers? Have you solved your back pain by learning a new sleep position? Tell us about it! When you share your story, you encourage other sufferers that there is hope. Leave us a comment now!

  • A Lot of Smiles a Day Keep the Doctor Away

    We’ve all heard that smiling is good for us—it uses fewer muscles than a frown, it makes you appear more attractive to others. But just what is the science behind a smile—and can it really have any effect on your physical body?

    The answer is, of course, a resounding yes. Among other things, smiling (a real smile) can lower your blood pressure, release endorphins, and lower stress. Some people report feelings of happiness occurring after a smile, not the other way around; so if you feel your heart rate increase due to stress or anxiety, start smiling.

    A smile can lower my blood pressure?

    When you smile, your heart rate is reduced. Researchers are still not 100% clear on how the two are linked, but the results from a recent study have researchers believing that smiling sends a message to your brain: “You’re happy. Calm down.”

    Obviously a lowered heart rate will lead to lowered blood pressure. In fact, one blog claims that doctors tell hypertension patients to smile to reduce tension! Our conclusion: if you want cheap blood pressure medicine, find something really funny and look at it every day.

    A Rush of Endorphins

    Another reason smiling affects us so positively is that a real smile releases endorphins (that “calm down” message to the brain). The fascinating thing about endorphins is that not only do they make us feel better, they actually reduce the body’s ability to produce cortisol, according to this blog . Cortisol is a stress hormone linked to anxiety and weight gain. Want to feel good and stay healthy? Next time you want to down that carton of ice cream, resist the urge to pick up a spoon and instead turn on some stand up comedy. You’ll get a rush of feel-good emotions without any affect on your waistline. Hey, you could even go for a walk—exercise releases endorphins too!

    Lowering Stress Level

    Although we’ve already talked about how smiling increases endorphins and consequently lowers blood pressure—which are some of the reasons smiling impacts your stress level—we haven’t yet talked about anxiety. Whether it’s simple niggling worries about getting tasks done or full-blown dread, anxiety ups your stress level. Smiling can reverse this process, this “stress cascade,” by putting you in a different state of mind, according to Livestrong.com . By taking a moment to slow your breathing and change your frown into a smile, you will remind yourself of truth—that this moment is not forever, and the difficult things right now will probably be forgotten tomorrow.

    Lowering your stress level is important because stress wrecks havoc on the body. Smiling can reduce that havoc, perhaps prevent it altogether, as proven by a study done in 2012 . Results showed that patients who both smiled genuinely and were forced to smile (with a chopstick in the mouth) had lower heart rates after the stress test was performed. Crazy, right?

    What do you do to keep smiling?

    Now that you know how healthy you can be by smiling, it’s time to make sure you keep it up! Whether you are seeking to lower your blood pressure, lose weight with an endorphin rush, or lower your stress level, these smile-inducing strategies might help .

    What do you do to keep smiling in daily life? Do you make sure you read the comics over lunch, or watch a comedy bite on Youtube before falling asleep? Is smiling something that comes easily, or do you find it difficult? Tell us how smiling has impacted your health, and we’ll answer with an encouragement (or at least just a comment)!