Sleeping with neck pain is like a trap that causes you to move within a vicious cycle where the more pain you endure, the less you sleep. This reduced sleep time in turn leads back to developing more pains in the neck. Breaking out of this cycle, although difficult, is possible indeed.
Making small yet crucial changes to your lifestyle and following a few healthy sleeping tips can help seal the deal for you.
If you happen to fall among 70% of the world’s population that has to deal with persistent neck pain at night, these actionable tips shared below can help you relax neck muscles while sleeping and find considerable relief.
How to Sleep with a Stiff Neck to Relax Strained Muscles?
Neck stiffness typically develops as a result of a gradual degradation and weakness of the neck muscles due to misuse or adoption of a bad posture. A deep sleep however is best for people with cricked necks, in order to avoid any chances of developing an injury or chronic neck pain. There are other ways and methods that can help with sore neck and cervical pain when you fall asleep but using the right pillow for your specific sleeping position should be on top of the list.
1. Use Comfortable Pillows
Choosing the right pillow to sleep on is crucial to alleviating neck and back pains. An ideal pillow is the one that keeps your upper body aligned during sleep while also supporting your head and neck in a way that the neck muscles do not get strained.
With a wide variety of pillow brands and pillow filling materials available, it gets a little harder to find your ideal pillow. You can either take this pillow quiz or just read on to find out more about pillow selection for different sleeping positions.
Sleeping on oneâ€™s back is considered an ideal resting position especially for those with a serious neck pain, granted your pillow offers adequate support. Back sleepers need to be extremely careful to sleep in a way that the curve of their neck resembles the neck arch obtained when they are standing upright. In order to ensure that your sleeping posture is right, check to see if your chin and nose are both on the same level.
Back sleepers should sleep on a medium-firm pillow with a loft that is neither too high nor too low. A rounded or plusher pillow, preferably made of feathers, that conforms to the curve of your neck can additionally be placed underneath the neck to provide extra support.
A better alternative however is a contour memory foam cervical pillow, which features a central groove designed especially to help the back sleepers retain the natural curve of their neck while enabling their head to be slightly raised to promote smooth breathing.
Side sleepers require their spine to be set straight and ensure that their head and neck are aligned right in the middle of their shoulders, in order to alleviate neck pain while sleeping. They can do so by using a pillow that is thicker under their neck, to give it the desired uplift, yet thinner under the head to let the neck rest with its natural arc.
The contoured neck pillow is generally considered an ideal choice for side sleepers with strained neck. This is because of the superior neck support that the pillowâ€™s central depression offers, in addition to providing the recommended loft of about 4 to 5 inches.
Since memory foam pillows can easily conform to your neck curve, they therefore work to relieve pressure off the major pressure points of the body and provide a highly therapeutic and ergonomic design to ensure you sleep fitfully.
It is also recommended that the side sleepers develop a habit of placing a pillow between their knees, so as to prevent the downward rotation of the upper leg, which would otherwise disrupt the natural position of the spine and cause discomfort.
Sleeping on oneâ€™s stomach most often contributes to neck pain rather than help in alleviating it. This is majorly because stomach sleepers require their neck to be rotated on one side, and makes it impossible for their neck muscles to relax. It is however recommended that people with such a sleeping habit should make use of an ultra thin pillow, or opt to sleep without a pillow entirely.
This gel infused memory foam pillow is highly recommended for those who simply canâ€™t give up on their habit of sleeping on their stomach. The highly comfortable memory foam aligns the pillow according to your neck contours and reduces the strain on your muscles by evenly distributing the weight throughout. The infused gel helps to keep you cool throughout the night ensuring that you sleep comfortably and donâ€™t experience any night sweats.
2. Use neck support or a brace
When the neck pain persists and becomes unbearable, doctors often recommend their patients to use neck support during the night and the day. A neck brace shall impede your ability to move your neck in various directions. However, by limiting the mobility, it allows your neck muscles to rest and recover from the strain without any external stimulus which could have otherwise caused further neck pain.
The neck collar offers a soft and comfortable feel which provides alignment support to your spine and neck, regardless of your sleeping position. The adjustable design enables you to tailor the support according to your requirements, making it viable to be worn throughout the day and into the night.
3. Avoid using phone before bedtime
You all might have heard of the phenomenon called text neck. It actually refers to a stiff neck which is caused as a result of using mobile in bed.
Proper alignment of the neck muscles with your head to keep your spine straight is crucial when sleeping with a pinched nerve in neck. However, using the phone in bed causes your head to tilt at an almost 60 degree angle, which ends up exerting a huge amount of force on the neck muscles that ultimately leads to stiffness and crick in the neck.
The electronic gadget detox in itself is extremely important to ensure a restful sleep throughout the night. The blue light which is emitted by these fancy screens inhibits your sleep by preventing your body from releasing melatonin – a sleep inducing hormone. In case you canâ€™t help using the phone during night, make sure you limit your screen time and keep it minimal.
4. Stretch your neck before going to bed
Neck stiffness is usually caused due to a strain in the neck muscles. Gentle stretches can help loosen out any kinks that your neck muscles might have developed, and therefore provide relief from the tension and stress accumulating within your body.
The forward and backward tilt is a less complicated and rather easy to follow stretch in which you stretch the neck by first tucking your chin near your chest and then tilting your head backwards towards your shoulders. Similarly a side tilt will involve the tilting of the head towards the side so that the ear gently presses against the shoulder, while stretching your lateral neck muscles.
Rotation of the shoulder blades in a clockwise then anticlockwise direction is another great stretch that releases the tension in your upper body, and helps soothe your cricked neck.
When stretching to get rid of neck stiffness, muscle strain and discomfort is obvious, however, if you experience a sharp pain, stop right away and consult your doctor instead.
Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain and Pinched Nerve
Sleeping on your side and back are two good and easiest positions to sleep with a pinched nerve in neck. Your sleeping position is what makes the difference between a healthy sleep during the night or a rather uncomfortable nap that makes you wake up with a sore neck. Those with a persistent neck pain need to be ultra careful with their sleeping position so as to ensure that their neck and shoulders are well rested and do not experience any sort of strain.
Read on to find out which sleeping positions are ideal for people experiencing a stiff neck.
1. Sleep on your side
Sleeping on your side has been proven as being effective to alleviate many sleep related problems such as sleep apnea and sleeplessness. When you sleep better, your muscles get the rest they need enabling them to recover from whatever strain you might have developed during the day.
People with neck neck pain often find relief by sleeping on their side. The secret however is to keep your spine as straight as naturally possible, otherwise you might find a lot of pressure building up on your neck and shoulders which in turn potentially leads to muscular strain.
Choosing the right mattress and the right pillow type can therefore help side sleepers significantly reduce the occurrence of neck pains during sleep.
2. Sleep on your back
Sleeping on your back is not the most popular position but it does offer some health benefits.
Back sleepers generally have their weight equally distributed throughout their body, which is why the likelihood of them developing a strain over their neck or shoulders is extremely low.
What back sleepers need to look out for is the alignment of their neck, head and shoulders which should enable their spine to be straight. It can be easily achieved using the right combination of mattress and pillow.
3. Sleeping Upright
Lying down on the bed is considered the normal sleeping position, however it often comes as a surprise to most that sleeping upright is actually a pretty effective position as well that can be adopted to help alleviate symptoms of neck pain.
You might have experienced the soreness in your muscles after waking up from a nap in your car or airplane. This is attributed partly to the posture you sleep in, which if it is incorrect, can exert pressure on your lower spine and neck, thereby causing neck pain.
On the other hand, if the same position is coupled with an adequate neck support such as a horse-shoe shaped pillow, along with a reading pillow for your back, sleeping upright can become your unprecedented ticket to a pain free sleep.
Doctors also recommend this sleeping position for people who are recovering from a sternal fracture so as to avoid putting any pressure on their breastbone.
4. Sleeping on your stomach
Sleeping on your stomach is the least recommended sleeping position, especially for those with chronic neck pain. This is because it is extremely difficult for an individual to sleep on their stomach without exerting pressure on their neck.
Stomach sleepers often have to twist their neck and head a certain way to breathe normally while they sleep. Doing so disrupts the ideal position of the spine and ends up exerting pressure on the neck muscles, making you wake up with a neck sprain.
Moreover, if your mattress doesnâ€™t provide adequate support and your belly keeps sinking in, your spine develops a further unnatural arc that leads to pain in the lower back as well.
What Causes a Sore Neck When You Wake Up?
Soreness in the neck is majorly attributed to the strain in neck muscles that develops when you overexert the neck muscles. There are many reasons for this buildup of pressure to the point of exertion. Sometimes, the causes are simply beyond your control such as developing an injury of sorts that put pressure on your neck.
However, most other reasons stem from certain lifestyle choices that you make, such as the awkward postures or using smartphones in the bed.
Read on to see if your neck pain is attributed to any of these commonly made mistakes.
Wrong sleeping position
A wrong sleeping position is truly one of the most common causes of neck pain from sleeping. When you sleep in a certain position that causes your bodyâ€™s pressure points to overexert themselves, the resulting pain in shoulders and neck area can keep you from getting a good nightâ€™s sleep and therefore trap you in a vicious cycle of less sleep resulting in more pain.
Even if you are sleeping in one of the recommended sleeping positions, if your pillow doesnâ€™t complement the position, your chances of developing or aggravating your pre-existing neck pain are quite high. Your pillow type, the material as well as the loft height should all be determined according to the position you sleep in as well as your height and body build.
Depending on how severe the injury is, your doctor shall recommend the necessary changes to your lifestyle and sleep routine. This normally includes the use of neck braces for additional support and doing the recommended stretches before sleep. A failure to do so shall definitely cause your neck to get cramped resulting in a sore neck.
A sudden unprepared movement, especially of the upper body, can cause injury to the neck muscles, ligaments, bones or nerves in the neck. Such an injury causes stiffness in the neck due to which you might experience neck pain while attempting to move your neck during sleep or even while awake.
Poor posture during the day
Adopting a poor posture at work during the day can strain your muscles and neck ligaments resulting in neck spasms, also known as neck cramps. For example the tilting of the head in the forward direction while using your mobile places the head in front of the shoulders and disrupts your spinal alignment. Similarly, while looking at a computer screen that isnâ€™t positioned at your eye level, the tilting back of the head causes strain in your neck muscles, yet again causing you to wake up with a crick in the neck.
Home Remedies for Neck Pain
Certain home remedies work well to alleviate the neck pain. Applying heat or ice to the affected area has been proven to be quite effective in most cases. Usually the method involves applying ice for the first 2-3 days which is then substituted with heat from warm showers or heating pads.
There are some exercises and stretches that can help relieve the neck pain as well. These target the slow movement of neck muscles in a side to side as well as up and down direction, which gently helps the neck muscles to relax and relieves your pain. Make sure to avoid jerking your neck or causing sudden movements, all the while maintaining gradual neck motion throughout the day.
Some pain relievers such as ibuprofen can be taken to provide a quick solution to neck pain, however, it is a rather temporary solution and doesnâ€™t provide a lasting relief. You can even ask your partner to give you a soothing massage over the sore areas of the neck.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will it help my neck pain if I start sleeping without a pillow?
If you are inherently a stomach sleeper, then sleeping without a pillow will undoubtedly help relieve your neck pain. With most of the weight falling onto the stomach for stomach sleepers, their spine alignment already goes way beyond its natural curve. Using a pillow only elevates your head and makes your spine curve at an unusual angle even further. Ditching the pillow while using a supportive mattress can help the stomach sleepers to sleep with a well-aligned spine, thereby helping to alleviate neck pain.
How do you pick a pillow for neck pain?
Your pillow preference for neck pain depends on your sleeping position as well as your personal inclination towards a certain pillow material. As a rule of thumb, your pillow should attempt to mimic your neckâ€™s curve and keep your spine in its natural alignment, in order to prevent you from developing neck pains. Back sleepers require a less thick pillow under their head combined with a bolster pillow to support their neck, while the side sleepers can use a contour pillow to keep their spine perfectly aligned.
How long does neck pain last from sleeping wrong?
It depends on the extent of injury you have caused to your muscles. Generally, if the case isnâ€™t severe, the pain goes away within a day or two, given that precautionary measures are taken. In other cases, it might even take you a couple of weeks to get your neck back to normal.
If however, you have seriously injured your neck, the pain might not go away without meeting a professional chiropractor or taking the appropriate medication.
How do you loosen tight neck muscles?
Loosening the tight muscles requires you to do certain stretches that help soothe these muscles and the ligaments. Some stretches that can help include rolling oneâ€™s shoulders in a forward and backward motion, moving your head in a way to bring your ears towards the shoulders or squeezing the shoulder blades to relieve the tension caught in the muscles. Similarly, you can even try a massage or use heat pads to provide the much needed comfort.
Is massage good for a stiff neck?
A soothing and relaxing massage is indeed recommended to provide comfort to a stiff neck. Massage tends to relieve the muscles and ligaments that are sore from misuse, and increases blood flow to the entire body. This helps you to relax and release the tension you have accumulated within your muscles. When carried out by a professional, who is well aware of the pressure points to relieve the neck pain, the efficacy of massage therapy multiplies.
What are the pressure points to relieve neck pain?
There are five major pressure points within your body that can help relieve neck pain:
- Jian Jing, which is present in your shoulder muscles, between your neck and arms
- He Gu, which is located between your thumb and middle finger and is known for its efficiency in relieving neck pains.
- Feng Chi, which is located between the base of your skull and top of your neck, is especially efficient in alleviating neck pain caused by a wrong sleeping position.
- Zhong Zu, which is located between the knuckles of the ring finger and pinky finger.
- Heavenâ€™s Pillar, which is found two inches away from the top of your backbone, and is present on both sides of the neck.