Are you taller when you wake up?

We have all heard about the discs between the vertebrae, hopefully not from phrases such as, “I herniated a disc”, “my doctor said my disc is bulging”, or “I slipped a disc”.  This word is used very commonly, but what does it really mean and why do we care?

Loss in height over the short-term & long-term.  Measure your height upon waking and again before you go to sleep.  Each night while you are sleeping, the discs re-absorb fluid.  The more fluid in the disc, the higher its shock-absorption capacity and the more stability or support available to the joint.  There is an inverse relationship in the human body between stability and mobility.  Looking at the shoulder or hip socket, it is clear that there is a large amount of mobility or motion available with minimal stability.  Whereas in the spine, particularly the lumbar (lowest) region the exact opposite is true.

Early morning spine stiffness.  One reason for a tight spine upon waking is the fluid reabsorption that occurs with sleep.  Rather than being frustrated with the stiffness you may experience upon wakening, embrace this incredible rehydration that your body has provided to the spine and do some gentle yoga or pilates to ease any uncomfortable stiffness.      

Trip to the moon anyone?  Another method to increase disc fluid is to travel to outer-space.  After almost 3 months, astronauts grow approximately 2 inches!  This is one of the primary marketing tactics used by inversion table companies.  Realize, the spine was designed to handle a lifetime of activity, given you are practicing proper mechanics and movement.  Sleeping is the most appropriate time to allow the discs to reabsorb fluid.  While an inversion table may feel great, it is challenging to compete with 8 hours of sleep in a supportive yet comfortable bed. 

Pressure on the spine, avoiding degeneration.  Did you know that sitting places 50% more pressure on your discs than standing?  And that leaning forward while sitting places 150% more pressure on the discs than standing!!!  Taking breaks from the desk, going for a daily walk and practicing proper posture while sitting will provide your spine with the environment required for a long healthy life free of discomfort. 

We are supposed to loose up to an inch in height each day!  No need to panic as long as you are getting the rest you need and your body is properly hydrated upon sleeping.