Ways to Get Rid of Neck Pain from Sleeping Incorrectly

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neck pain from sleeping
Credit: iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Waking up with neck pain from sleeping in an odd position can be a real problem, making for a miserable day or week. This article will explain how to get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong.

This type of neck pain is often annoying, and sometimes extremely painful. In order to eliminate neck pain from sleeping incorrectly, it is best to understand the cause. Basically, your head can fall into a position that puts unnecessary stress on your neck muscles. This causes your neck to become agitated.

Read on, as we cover more detail about the cause of neck pain from sleeping, the best sleeping position for neck pain, whether it is better to sleep without a pillow, and natural ways to prevent and get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong.

What Causes Neck Pain while Sleeping?

What are neck pain after sleeping causes? Neck pain from sleeping wrong is the most obvious cause; however, how this happens needs further explanation. The following are three possible causes of neck pain from sleeping wrong:

1. Sleeping on the Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach will elevate your neck and head, which puts them both into an unnatural position at night and causes a neck strain. To avoid sleeping on the stomach, invest in a body pillow. Holding it while sleeping will keep you from turning onto your stomach.

2. Sleeping with Hand on Forehead

Research published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science in June shows that pain in the upper trapezius and scalene muscles of the right side of the neck was significantly greater when the person’s dominant hand was placed on their forehead while sleeping. That is why keeping the hands by your side is better.

3. Wrong Pillow Etiquette

Is the neck pain due to pillow support, or lack thereof? It is best to avoid using a stiff and thick pillow, or stacking your pillows. This keeps the neck flexed overnight, and by morning, there is stiffness and pain in the neck.

It will also bend the position of the spine, and simultaneously induce back pain. Sleeping this way for long periods can even lead to chronic back and neck pain. If your pillows are too bulky or firm, it may be time to get a new set of pillows.

Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain

If you have spent the entire day with stiff and sore muscles, then you probably want to know how to sleep correctly with neck pain at nighttime. You may need to improve your posture while you sleep by choosing a position that helps keep your spine in alignment.

What is the best sleeping position for neck pain specifically? In general, there are two sleeping positions that are most comfortable on the neck—sleeping on your back or your side. Let’s take a look at how to best side sleep and back sleep.

  • Back sleeping: Back sleepers are best to use a thin pillow to support the natural curve of your neck. It may be helpful to use a small neck pillow or a specialized pillow with built-in neck support. You can also put a small neck roll into the case of a soft pillow.
  • Side sleeping: How about the best pillow for neck pain for side sleepers? Those that sleep on the side typically need a thicker pillow to ensure the head and neck is positioned in the middle of the shoulders. The height and width of your shoulders are also important to consider. For instance, a petite person will require a slimmer pillow than a broad-shouldered individual.

Is It Better to Sleep Without a Pillow to Avoid Neck Pain?

Is it better to sleep without a pillow to avoid neck pain? Or, does sleeping without a pillow actually lead to neck pain? There are a few advantages of sleeping without a pillow to consider, especially for your posture.

Sleeping without a pillow will actually help extend your back and help you rest in a more natural position, possibly without any aches or pains. At the same time, using a pillow that is too soft will strain your neck muscles and reduce the flow of blood to the head.

Overall, sleeping without or with a pillow is a personal choice. That being said, here are some sleeping without a pillow benefits that you need to know:

  • Spinal benefits: Can sleeping without a pillow improve the health of the spine? Sleeping on your back without a pillow can allow the spine to rest naturally, whereas a thick pillow can displace the spine.
  • Sleep benefits: Some believe pillows interfere with sleep quality, especially when it is the wrong pillow. If you often wake up in the middle of the night or feel unrested most mornings,  sleeping without a pillow may ensure better sleep, since the body is not elevated with the pillow.
  • Facial benefits: Others believe that sleeping without a pillow could potentially decrease wrinkles because the face is not being squashed against a pillow for hours each night. Pillows also collect oil, sweat, and bacteria that may trigger clogged pores and breakouts.
  • Neck benefits: Neck and shoulder pain may also be caused by sleeping with a pillow. As a result, some believe the best way to alleviate neck pain is to sleep without the pillow.

How to Get Rid of Neck Pain from Sleeping Wrong

This section will feature tips for how to get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong. The following natural therapies and remedies may be effective for getting rid of neck pain:

1. Exercise the Muscles

Regular exercise is important for improving muscle strength and reducing inflammation. At the same time, inactivity can weaken the muscles around the neck that hold the head in place. You can also try neck pain exercises for relief.

Simply place your left hand on the side of your neck, and softly push your hand against your neck. Rotate your head in each direction for five to 10 seconds, and then relaxing for five to 10 minutes. You can also deepen the stretch by slowly pulling the head toward your chest and in the direction of your knee, until you reach a new ending point. Repeat the neck exercise two or three times.

2. Shower or Soak with Bath Salts

Water may do wonders for your neck pain from sleeping wrong. When taking a shower, run lukewarm or hot water over your neck and head for about five minutes. Remember to keep your neck straight during the shower.

Alternatively, you can also soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt. This can improve circulation and relieve tension in your neck muscles.

3. Apply Heat or Cold

Heating pads can also help you get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong. In just a few minutes, a heating pad can help stimulate the blood flow to the neck. Ice packs are also thought to relieve neck pain even better than a hot compress when applied the painful area for a short period of time.

Hydrotherapy is also called water therapy, and it involves a shower massage with warm water. You will massage your neck with warm water for about four minutes, before having a cold-water massage for around 30 seconds.

4. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a holistic health therapy that stems from traditional Chinese medicine, where trained practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles on the skin.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2009 confirmed the short-term effectiveness and efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of neck pain.

5. Massage Therapy

A randomized study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain in 2009 suggests that massage therapy is safe and effective for the short-term treatment of chronic neck pain. You can also massage the neck with essential oils like citronella, lavender, and tea tree oils.

6. Chiropractic Care

Chiropractors can also relieve neck pain naturally with targeted spinal adjustments. Research shows that for every inch your head sticks out from its center of gravity, the neck bears an extra 10 pounds of stress.

Spinal rehabilitation exercises and chiropractic adjustments may help you develop proper posture of the shoulders, head, and neck while also reducing pain in these areas.

7. Anti-Inflammatory Diet

High levels of inflammation can also make your neck muscles more susceptible to pain. You can help control inflammation and speed your ability to heal with an anti-inflammatory diet of whole foods, especially green leafy vegetables, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, free-range eggs, grass-fed meat, wild fish, and probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi.

An anti-inflammatory diet will also limit processed meats, packaged snacks, alcohol, refined grains, and chemically sprayed conventional crops.

How to Prevent Neck Pain from Sleeping Incorrectly

Do you want to know how to prevent neck pain from sleeping altogether? Let’s explore how to prevent neck pain from sleeping with a few simple tips.

1. Close Your Window

Keep your bedroom window closed at night. This is because the cold air from outside can cause the neck muscles to stiffen up.

2. Practice Better Sitting

Maybe your neck pain isn’t from sleeping wrong at all. Instead, your neck pain may be from sitting wrong all day at work. Long office hours in an uncomfortable chair and at an uncomfortable computer table can also lead to neck pain.

Be sure to change your posture on a regular basis, and taking walking and standing breaks can also stretch your muscles. Taking five to 10 minute breaks every hour is a good idea. Alternatively, a standing workstation can also help improve neck pain.

3. Manage Stress

Excessive stress can lead to tension around the head, shoulders, and neck. Exercise, meditation, yoga, or a soothing bath before bed can all help prevent neck pain from sleep.

4. Better Sleep Etiquette

As we mentioned earlier, how you sleep is important. Sleeping on your side with a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head is a method for keeping your spine straight.

Also, for reducing stress in the bedroom, remove all electronic devices, including computers and smartphones. To help you sleep, diffuse relaxing essential oils before bed. Some good oils for this purpose include chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint oil.

Neck Pain from Sleeping Is Manageable

Neck pain from sleeping can be your worst nightmare in the morning. This can be caused by sleeping on your stomach, sleeping with your hand placed on the forehead, or having pillow problems like stiff or thick pillows cramping your comfort level during sleep.

Luckily, sleep posture matters. Try sleeping on your back or side, or sleep without a pillow. Sleeping without a pillow is known to benefit the neck, spine, and face. At the same time, it might also improve the quality of your sleep.

Other ways to relieve neck pain include neck exercises, showers or baths, applying heat or cold, acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care, and an anti-inflammatory diet.

Also Read :

11 Causes Linked to Neck Pain on the Left Side

How to Treat Neck Pain That Causes Nausea and Dizziness

Is There a Connection Between Shoulder and Neck Pain?

Top Tips to Naturally Relieve Neck Pain


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“Say “good night” to neck pain,” Harvard Health Publishing; https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/say-good-night-to-neck-pain, last accessed Oct. 30, 2017.
Lee, W-H., et al., “Effect of sleep posture on neck muscle activity,” The Journal of Physical Therapy Science, June 7, 2017; 29(6): 1021-1024, doi: 10.1589/jpts.29.1021.
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Hudson, R., “Is It Better To Sleep Without A Pillow?” Snores Nation; https://www.snorenation.com/sleep-without-pillow/, last accessed Oct. 30, 2017.
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Fu, L.M., et al., “Randomized controlled trials of acupuncture for neck pain: systematic review and meta-analysis,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, February 2009; 15(2): 1330145, doi: 10.1089/acm.2008.0135.
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