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What to Consider If You’re Waking with Neck Pain

When we work with sleepers to find the perfect pillow, we ask a lot of questions. Finding the right pillow can make a difference to our sleep and, therefore, our overall health and wellness. The right pillow depends upon a variety of factors with sleep position first and foremost among them. We often receive feedback about the way in which a customer has slept well on one of our pillows, including waking without the neck pain to which they’ve become accustomed.

1.     Can the Way You Sleep Cause Neck Pain?

Yes, sleep can “play a role in musculoskeletal pain, including neck and shoulder pain.” Not getting sufficient, quality sleep can make you more likely to develop musculoskeletal pain, which might be a result of the disruption of “the muscle relaxation and healing that normally occur during sleep.” Once you’ve developed pain, it can be hard to sleep, creating a vicious cycle.

Waking with a stiff neck can be a result of sleeping with your head or neck at an awkward angle, a sudden movement during sleep, or a preexisting injury causing pain or stiffness to develop while sleeping.  Although a pillow won’t prevent the second or third cause of a stiff neck, it can certainly help to avoid an awkward angle and set you up for waking pain free.

2.     What Is the Best Sleep Position to Avoid Waking with Neck Pain?

The goal is to find a neutral posture when you sleep. “Aligning your head, shoulders and hips puts your body in a neutral posture that eases stress.”  Sleeping on your side or on your back are the best positions for your neck. Sleeping on your stomach arches your back and requires turning your neck to the side.

3.     Can I Change My Sleep Position?

Most people change position throughout the night so where you start off may not necessarily be where you spend the night or wake up. Additionally, your sleep position is typically set when you are young and can be difficult to change. Nonetheless, you can start off in the desired position. You can also use pillows to assist in supporting the desired position. For example, pregnant sleepers or snorers may find sleeping with a body pillow helps them to remain on their sides.

4.     What Is the Best Pillow for My Sleep Position?

In a 2017 study in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, the authors found 54.1% of participants slept in the side position, 37.5% slept in the back position, and 7.3% slept in the front position. The following recommendations are generalized statements since sleepers do change position throughout the night and every sleeper has different personal preferences.

If you’re a stomach sleeper, you’ll want the slimmest of pillows under your head to provide cushioning but avoid additional stress on your cervical spine.

If you’re a back sleeper, you’ll want a thin pillow to keep your neck aligned, so you have good posture while sleeping. That means you don’t want your jaw jutting toward the ceiling or toward your chest. You may want to place a small pillow under your knees “to take a bit of pressure off your lower back.”

If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll want a thicker pillow to position your head in the middle of your shoulders. This depends on your build. The broader your shoulders, the thicker the pillow you’ll need to keep your head from being tilted toward your left or right shoulder during the night. You don’t want to go too thick so that your head is tilted to far in the other direction. Sleeping with a pillow between your knees or hugging a body pillow might also help with keeping your spine aligned while sleeping on your side.

5.     What Else Can I Do to Reduce Neck Pain at Night?

This is another reason to put your cell phone or other electronics away at least an hour before bedtime; looking at your phone while lying in bed can place your neck at an awkward angle. Put the electronics away.

Stretch your neck before bed. “Stretching your neck loosens tight muscles and may help relieve pain.” Consider adding some gentle stretching to your bedtime routine to reduce neck stiffness before you go to sleep.

6.     What If I Wake with a Stiff Neck?

Ideally, you’ll find the right pillow to avoid waking with a stiff neck, but if you do wake with a sore neck, there are a few things you can try so you can get on with your day. Ice applications for 10-20 minutes at a time may limit swelling while heat therapy in the form of a warm shower or a heating pad may help loosen and relax muscles. Typically, cold is used "to numb the early acute pain and reduce inflammation," while heat is used "after a day or two, once the acute pain calms down." Additionally, over-the-counter medications may be advised if you can tolerate them, and they are not contraindicated. Once you have some pain relief, gentle stretching or massage can achieve further loosening of the muscles and ligaments.

As with all pain, a stiff or painful neck should be addressed with your medical professional to determine the actual cause and prescribed treatment. 

Our team is always happy to help you to pick the perfect pillow for the way you sleep.

-The Team at down etc


Read more:

Bedtime Rituals for Better Sleep

Bedding Buying Guide: The Right Sleeping Pillow for Your Head and Your Bed


DISCLAIMER: You should not rely on any of the foregoing as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical or health and wellness advice, diagnosis, or treatment by a healthcare professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional or medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist, such as a licensed physician, psychologist, or other health professional. Never disregard the medical advice of a physician, psychologist, or other health professional, or delay in seeking such advice, because of the information or content offered or provided on the Site. The use of the Site and all information and content contained thereon is solely at your own risk.

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