At some point or another most of us have probably suffered from some sort of neck pain. Since an adult head weighs around 10 or 11 pounds, your neck truly does have it’s work cut out for it. Composed of a series of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which encases your cervical spine, your neck is responsible for support of your head as well as movement and a passageway for your nervous system to the rest of your body.
In short: it’s pretty important.
And when it hurts or is stiff and impedes mobility, your day really does feel like it’s at a disadvantage- especially if you woke up that way. Neck pain can be caused by a variety of things which may include injury to the joints or soft tissues, arthritis, simple strains, or even headaches. No matter the root cause, your support of it to help alleviate the discomfort is critical to healing, as is the rest you receive to help this process along.
Check out our article about The Best Tips for Sleeping on a Plane
Quick Sleep Tips
- Sleep on your back or side for proper spinal alignment
- Elevate your lower legs slightly with a roll under your knees
- Be sure to use a supportive pillow
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach
- Make sure your sleeping surface is proper for your sleeping position
- Pick the correct pillow for both your sleeping position and pain symptoms
- Consider cervical support aides for posture and support
What Causes Neck Pain?
Most of the time neck pain isn’t serious and will go away on it’s own after a few days. It’s easy to strain your neck and experience neck pain from your posture during computer work, while sitting at a desk, or even studying. Or maybe your neck became sore or cramped while sleeping in a poor position, forcing you to try and alleviate neck pain and stiffness through the day.
Other causes may surround vertebrae damage from accidents, or even an inflammation of the soft tissues due to trauma or bruising. Arthritis, painful inflammation of the joints, may also settle in the cervical joints. Nerve compression or herniated disks can occur and cause chronic pain issues as well. Some of these issues may be more long lasting, or even cause chronic, repetitive pain and so all of these should be treated with the aide of your healthcare provider. You don’t have to depend solely on your doctor for pain relief however; there are many things you can incorporate into your lifestyle to help live more comfortably.
Unfortunately, neck pain tends to bother us the most in the evenings when we struggle to find a comfortable position in order to rest and heal. Consistent pain can be unnerving and stressful, leaving you feeling exhausted and used up, so getting a good night’s sleep is paramount to your recovery. And if you cannot get comfortable due to neck pain, it can draw out the symptoms even further and cause you to suffer longer.
Occasionally you may wake from sleep with neck pain without any discernible reason why. Many times this is due to some poor choices on your part surrounding what type of pillow you choose, and how you position yourself as you sleep. Rarely does night time neck pain that you awake with have any serious long-term effects and can be easily end with a change in your own habits, as listed above. However, if it continues, you may want to speak with your healthcare provider to rule out any sort of chronic, underlying issues.
Luckily, neck pain is an affliction that is fairly common. Many solutions do exist to help align your neck throughout the day, and provide a good sleeping position for neck pain each night.
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Sleeping Tips for Neck Pain
Interrupted sleep doesn’t just leave us feeling tired, it also affects our overall health and slows down our body’s healing process. When we sleep each night our breathing slows, our body temperature drops, and our brain enters into a series of sleep stages that aides in cognitive function as well as decision making. This is also a period of time when your muscles and bones heal and grow, and your tissues rejuvenate. Obviously, an interruption in this process could severely affect your day to day transactions, as well as hold you back from recovering from any pain you have been experiencing.
Neck pain often seems to be the most problematic and aggravating at night, and also where you may strain it even further through a long period of inactivity; take care to find ways to help support your neck and allow a comfortable sleeping position.
Sleeping on Your Back
The best way to relieve neck pain at night is to address your sleeping positions. The best sleep position for neck pain is to sleep on your back. This keeps your spine aligned and spine in a neutral position without any unnatural curvature or extra pressure being applied to areas along your back and neck. This is also the best position for acid reflux as long as your head is somewhat elevated. Just be sure to use the best type of pillow for neck pain in these situations.
Pillows for Back Sleepers
The best types of pillow for neck pain, if you are a back sleeper, is to make sure you have a thin, medium-firm pillow that provides the neck support and contouring needed for the heft of your head itself. There are many on the market specific to back sleepers that are designed specifically for areas of the neck to rest.
Elevate your lower legs slightly for additional spinal support by placing a rolled blanket or towel under your knees when you sleep on your back. This helps support natural spinal curvature and keeps the heavier parts of your body from putting a strain on your back muscles. This is also especially helpful and the best way to sleep if you experience both upper back and neck pain simultaneously because you are correctly positioning your entire spine.
You can also use a small rolled towel under your neck for added support. This supports the soft tissues, provides a place for rest and also fills the gap created between your shoulders and base of your skull by your natural spinal arch.
Side-sleepers arguably have the best overall sleep position, especially if you sleep on your left due to an increase in circulation. Side sleeping keeps airways open and will properly align your spine and support your neck and head (with the correct sleeping surfaces- described below). By adding a pillow between your knees you actually add even further support to this alignment by keeping the weight of your legs from pulling down on your spine.
Check our Best Sleep Positions Post here.
Pillows for Sleeping on Your Side
To keep from getting a stiff neck while sleeping on your side you want to make sure that you have the correct pillow. This may be the most important item for neck pain you can invest in. Proper neck support while sleeping in this position needs to be thick enough to keep your head at the correct elevation and not below your shoulders, as well as wide enough to support the entirety of the space between your shoulders.
What mattress you choose ultimately supports your sleeping position and should be an important part of your overall approach to neck pain. Back and stomach sleepers need a more firm surface to avoid having heavier parts of the body compress areas of the mattress, causing stress upon your spine. Side sleepers need a mattress that is a bit plusher, or soft, in order to allow for your back to be supported, but also curve along the shape of your shoulders and hips.
Avoid Your Stomach
Avoid sleeping on your stomach as this can cause chronic neck pain from your sleeping position. This causes rotation and pressure in your spine and forces you to rotate your neck to one side, which stretches and hold your soft tissues in an unnatural state through the night. Often pillows raise your neck upwards to in this position, causing further unnecessary flex through the neck. This makes it difficult to relax neck muscles while sleeping and you may wake more often than not with a stiff neck and upper back.
Pillows for Stomach Sleepers
If you must sleep on your stomach, choose a soft, thin pillow that cradles your head rather than raises it. Sleeping without a pillow is also a good option if you are willing to consider it. This will better help keep your spine aligned without adding stress to both soft tissues and your spinal column.
Apply heat to your neck to soften muscles and relieve tension. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes each night before heading to bed. Hot showers or baths may also help.
Sleep Products to Help with Neck Pain
Mentioned above are some of the general products associated with sleep to help relax neck muscles while sleeping. Pillows are obvious choices due to how they can provide specific proper neck support as you rest, but other than knowing the difference between a soft or firm pillow, you may want to explore some of the other pillow choices specific to relieving neck pain.
Obviously, there are many sleep products that are better than others in reducing neck and/or back pain. In fact, many are focused specifically for posture and neck pain. Pillows can, and will, cause neck pain if not chosen with your comfort in mind. Since they are not a one size fits all product as many consumers wrongly assume, you should take your time exploring what options best fit your needs.
They are the number one product to help alleviate the worst of your pain. Consider some of the following to help alleviate the discomfort associated with, or related to, nighttime neck irritation:
Pay attention to the materials used in pillows to relieve neck pain. As described above your pillow choices should be based on your sleeping position, but despite that feather pillows and memory foam pillows are some of the best to buy due to how they conform to your neck and head shape to provide supportive comfort. A pillow that moves your head into a more unnatural position, or doesn’t provide any give against your weight, shouldn’t be used.
Pillows specific to arthritic neck pain, or cervical neck problems are also very popular. These therapeutic or orthopedic pillows are often shaped specifically for back or side sleepers for maximum support and generally are made of conforming materials. Occasionally they also include a contoured roll for further neck support.
Pillow wedges specific for stomach sleepers also exist to help prop the upper body and allow space for face-down sleeping so as to not force the neck positions that cause pain through the night.
Cervical roll pillows can be used in multiple ways under your neck or even under your knees to prop up body parts and provide additional relaxation. This area almost always made of ome sort of foam that provides weight distribution as well as support and joint relief. These are especially helpful pillows for cervical joint pain.
Horseshoe-shaped or travel pillows are used by many for more than just upright cat naps on a plane. These can be very helpful for proper posture as well as comfort positioning when sitting in bed reading, or even watching television.
Neck Supports and Braces
Neck rest supports or soft cervical collar braces also exist as adjustable, padded relief to use each night for additional alignment support, or even if you are sleeping upright. These help keep your neck in the correct position, and also provide you with the ability to let your neck rest without the normal daily function of holding it up. It may impede your ability to move it side to side, but this may occasionally be exactly what you need to end further strain and promote healing.
Over the counter, anti-inflammatory medication, such as NSAIDS, which is found in aspirin and ibuprofen, can help alleviate pain and allow you to rest. If pain is persistent or has been causing insomnia, consider talking with your healthcare provider to see what else may be available. As with any medication always consult with your doctor before starting anything new.
Other Tips to Help with Neck Pain
If you are suffering from neck pain, chance are it takes place at times other than just at night. Ultimately supporting the weaknesses caused by this discomfort, and helping to speed up the healing process, should be a part of your everyday care. There are many things you can do to help create healthier spinal support and stop neck pain in it’s tracks.
Get Enough Sleep
The first thing you can do is to make sure you do get enough sleep. Sleep is part of the healing process, and getting the required 7 to 9 hours each night recommended for adults is crucial to both healing and your approach to the pain itself. Getting yourself into a daily pattern of rising and sleeping helps your body to rest better and prepares you mentally for sleep, which can be helpful when you struggle with comfort.
Try to avoid using cell phones and tablets for texting and gaming that forces you to look downwards, placing strain upon your neck muscles. Overtime this adds up to excessive stress to your muscles, ligaments, and tendons which can lead to degenerative damage to your cervical joints.
If you talk on the phone a lot use a hands-free device to keep you from cradling or tilting your head. This offsets your soft tissues and strains your vertebrae. Many different choices exist for a hands-free experience, including those that you don’t have to connect to your ear if you find that uncomfortable.
Stretch your neck throughout the day by tucking your chin to your chest to help relieve tension in the back of your neck and head. Rolling and tilting your head towards your shoulders can also provide tension relief. This is especially important if you sit at a desk for much of your day. Focus on proper posture when both sitting and standing. Reading also may force our head down towards the pages, the best position while reading is either relaxing in a more supported prone position, or sitting straight up without hunching shoulders or neck.
Drink water to help you stay hydrated and keep your joints well lubed. The material between your vertebrae is supported by your body’s hydration, so it’s important to drink the recommended 8 glasses a day for mobility and recovery.
Visit a Chiropractor
A chiropractic visit can do wonders for loosening muscles and checking on overall spinal health. It often doesn’t take much for one side of your body to become off balanced. This forces your body to overcompensate to make up for weaknesses or acquired pain. A chiropractor can help align your spinal column, as well as provide x rays to see why you may be experiencing pain you are.
Get a Massage
Therapeutic massage loosens muscles throughout your body, with a focus on the many back muscles that support your core. Many times tension causes our necks to feel stiff and sore, and so regular massage will help increase the blood flow into these areas for healing and improved movement.
Acupuncture focuses on the point on your body to provide pain relief and improve circulation. Although many people who have never tried this technique and are unfamiliar with the process may be skeptical, it has widely gained acceptance in the natural remedy community for pain relief.
Exercise regularly to help keep your circulatory system strong and provide better overall health. Even low impact activity such as yoga strengthens muscles and lowers the chances of injury. This also helps especially if you have a job that keeps you fairly sedentary. Getting moving when you aren’t at work will help keep you more limber.
If you’ve been looking for a way to stop neck pain, hopefully this article has led you down the right path to be mindful of the things you may have done to cause the pain, as well as ways to help alleviate your discomfort each night. Sleep tips and neck pain aide don’t have to be a hassle in order to address the pain that has been plaguing you.
If you have been waking with a stiff or sore neck seriously consider your sleeping surface and pillow type which may be the culprit. If you have pain for other reasons, the above can help alleviate your pain and get your healing.
See relevant article: The Link Between Pain And Your Sleep