Your hip flexors are a group of muscles located in the front of the hips that help you flex or move your knees and legs up toward your body. These muscles play an important role in a variety of activities, including running, jumping, cycling, and walking.
However, research has revealed that being sedentary reduces hip extension flexibility, which increases flexor tightness. This means that if you, for example, spend most of your days glued to a chair, your muscles can’t move through their entire range of motion, and this can cause stiffness and discomfort in the hips, pelvis, and lower back. This can affect your quality of comfortable sleep at night.
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READ MORE: How Does the Oura Ring Track My Sleep?
Common Causes of Tight Hip Flexors
Tight hip flexors can be caused by factors including:
- Lack of exercise: Prolonged physical inactivity can cause the hip flexors to weaken, shorten, and become tight, as they are not being stretched or used regularly.
- A weak core: A weak core forces hip flexors to stabilize the spine, causing them to work overtime to provide this support. This may eventually lead to tightness in the flexors.
- Muscle overuse: Overuse of the hip flexors, such as during activities that require repetitive movements like running or cycling, can reduce mobility and cause the muscles to become tight.
- Poor posture: Maintaining poor posture, for instance by slouching or leaning toward one side of the body, can cause the hip flexors to become tight over time.
- Injury: An injury to the hip or surrounding muscles can cause the hip flexors to become tight as a protective mechanism.
Tight hip flexors can be caused by a variety of factors, but regardless of the cause, they cause pain and discomfort. This can make it difficult to get comfortable, affecting your sleep and overall wellbeing.
How Do Tight Hip Flexors Affect Sleep Quality?
If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable when trying to sleep on your side or experienced an uncontrollable urge to move your legs at night, tight hip flexors could be the culprit behind your sleep disturbances. Hip flexor tightness can affect sleep in several ways:
Tight hip flexors can cause pain and discomfort in a variety of situations, particularly when lying on your side. This is because your body weight is directly pressing down on your hip joint, compressing it, and causing additional discomfort. The pain and discomfort can make falling and staying asleep difficult, leaving you unrested the next day.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome is characterized by an uncontrollable, often unpleasant urge to move your legs, especially at night. This can result in agitation and difficulty sleeping.
While the precise cause of most restless leg syndrome cases is unknown, there is evidence that tight hip flexors can contribute to its onset and severity. When your hip flexors are tight, they can pull on your pelvic muscles and affect the nerves that control your legs, resulting in restless leg syndrome sensations and movements.
If you’re an Oura member, you can use the Nighttime Movement feature to see how nighttime restlessness may be affecting your sleep quality.
When your hip flexors are tight, they can restrict blood flow to your legs and feet, which can lead to sensations of numbness or tingling. This can make it difficult to fall asleep and leave you feeling restless and uncomfortable throughout the night.
In addition, tight hip flexors also reduce blood flow and circulation through the hips themselves, leading to further physical discomfort and sleep difficulties. According to experts at Cleveland Clinic, “When you don’t move your hip joints in the right way, your body signals to stop producing synovial fluid and even reduces the blood flow to those areas.”
Tight hip flexors can also contribute to sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. This is because they can pull on the spine and disrupt its alignment, leading to breathing difficulties during sleep, as the airway becomes partially or completely blocked.
As a result, you may experience snoring, gasping, or choking during the night, which can disturb your sleep. Research supports the link between spinal misalignment and sleep apnea, demonstrating how the former makes people more susceptible to the latter.
Oura members can use the Blood Oxygen Sensing (SpO2) feature to detect overall blood oxygen saturation levels, and variation in those levels, while you sleep. These measurements show how efficiently your body circulates and absorbs oxygen, making it a useful index of your overall health, as well as indicating possible disturbances in your breathing during the night.
The Best Sleeping Positions for Tight Hip Flexors
If you have tight hip flexors, the most suitable sleeping positions are those that promote spinal alignment and relieve pressure on the hips. Here are some sleeping positions that may be beneficial:
Sleeping On Your Back
Sleeping on your back is considered one of the best sleeping positions for tight hip flexors since it stretches and releases tightness in the flexors.
The science behind sleeping on your back lies in the natural curve of the spine. To ensure spinal alignment, the spine has three natural curves that must be maintained during sleep. Sleeping on your back preserves these curves and alleviates pressure on the hips and lower back.
Moreover, this sleeping position can promote spinal alignment and help distribute your weight evenly across the mattress, which can help reduce pressure points, pain, and discomfort.
To optimize this position:
- Place a pillow under your knees to reduce spine curvature and relieve lower back and hip pain. Make sure the pillow under your knees is thick enough to keep your hips in a neutral position.
- Use a supportive pillow for your head and neck but ensure that it’s not too high. An excessively high pillow can strain your neck muscles.
Sleeping On Your Side
Sleeping on your side can help keep the hips and spine aligned, reducing pressure on the hips and promoting comfort. Plus, this position also helps reduce snoring and sleep apnea, leading to better sleep quality.
It’s worth noting that when it comes to sleeping on your side, the fetal position is often recommended. This is due to the position allowing the hips to flex and the knees to bend, helping to stretch the hip flexors and relieving any pressure on them.
To optimize this position: Place a pillow between your knees to help keep the spine in a neutral position and prevent the top leg from pulling the spine out of alignment.
Sleeping Positions To Avoid if You Have Tight Hip Flexors
Sleeping on your stomach is generally not recommended if you have tight hip flexors. It can pull your spine out of alignment, putting pressure on the lower back and hips. Sleeping on your stomach can also put pressure on your neck and shoulders, resulting in pain and discomfort over time.
However, every person’s body is different and you may find the position comfortable. In addition, you may benefit from a reduction in sleep apnea and snoring since gravity keeps the tongue and soft tissues from blocking the airways.
If you do sleep on your stomach:
- Put a pillow under the hips to support the spine and prevent the hips from sinking into the mattress.
- Use a flat pillow for your head to maintain good spine alignment.
There’s no one-size-fits-all sleeping position for people with tight hip flexors — what works for others may not work for you. You have to experiment with different sleeping positions to find the most comfortable and supportive position for your needs.
You will also want to invest in a good-quality mattress, follow a regular sleeping schedule, and incorporate some exercise and stretching into your daily routine. For example, you may find yoga particularly beneficial for relieving hip pain and promoting better sleep quality.
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