Is Your Sleeping Position Making Your Neck Hurt?

May 10 · 2 min read

Photo by juan garcia on Unsplash

Waking up with a pain in the neck is no great way to start the day. Neck pain is pretty intolerable, and for some, leaves you wondering if it’s your neck or if there’s something wrong inside your head.

When you wake up with some sort of muscular pain, it's a likely sign that it has something to do with the position in which you were sleeping.

Poor sleeping posture has been correlated not only to neck issues, but headaches, arm and shoulder pain, and overall poor quality sleep.

Our bodies do a lot of healing while we sleep. It's when our bodies and minds get a chance to relax and restore, so if you're not sleeping soundly, you're not getting the healing benefits sleep provides. You won't feel ready and able to take on the next day...

Here are some potential ways your sleeping position can be causing that kink in your neck…

Stomach Sleeping.

You probably don’t sleep on your stomach with your face down in the pillow, unless you’re a 3-year-old me trying to hide from closet monsters. This means your head ends up cranked to one side or the other.

Why it hurts your neck: You’re holding a sideways neck position for a long time, contracting muscles on one side of your neck and extending them on the other. Try looking over your shoulder and holding it for several hours. (How did that feel?)

Side sleeping with your head back.

Many people who side-sleep end up with their heads tilted backward, almost like they are looking up. This shortens the muscles in the back of the neck, which, when agitated, can cause tension headaches that crawl up the back of your skull.

How to Fix The Problem…

No matter what your sleeping position is, having the right pillow can make a huge difference. If you have neck pain, getting a pillow that supports your cervical spine can improve your quality of sleep and decrease the pain you wake up with. I personally have the Sleep Number Varicool Contour Pillow (not an affiliate link so click away). It’s firm yet comfortable, and the natural cervical curves support my neck no matter what position I am lying in.

The ideal sleeping position is on your back for those with proper mobility, those who aren’t pregnant, nor have sleep apnea, but many people find this uncomfortable or have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep in this position.

If you don’t have any of the above-listed conditions, you can try sleeping on your back. If you feel a strain in the lower back from this, try taking a small pillow or a rolled-up towel and putting it under your knees. This will relieve pressure in the lower back and spine.

To train yourself to sleep in this position, take a couple of extra pillows and build a barrier around yourself. If you have a tendency to roll to the left, putting a pillow against your left side can stop you from rolling in that direction in your sleep.

Some recommend putting a tennis ball on your side, but personally, I think having a ball shoved into your guts while you’re sleeping sounds terrible. Perhaps, start with a pillow, and try the tennis ball thing if you feel the need for extreme measures.

If you sleep on your side, use a pillow to bolster your knees and arms, to take the pressure off the hips and spine. Think about tucking your chin down if your head has a tendency to crank backward while you sleep.

Keeping the temperature of your bed and bedroom comfortable can help, too. When we are too hot or too cold when we sleep, we are more likely to move around a lot, thus ending up in less than ideal sleeping positions.

You can also look into bed alternatives!

If your mattress is old and worn, you might want a new mattress, but there are also other options for sleeping, as well. If you live in a small space, switching to something like a Murphy Bed or lofted bed can open up floor space.

A while back, I almost sold my big king-sized bed for a hammock. I camp with a hammock and it is literally like sleeping on air. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about people who hammock full time, and realizing I wasn't the only one, almost opted for it. (I do love my Sleep Number, though).

Check out this article on Happy DIY Home to read more on different bed alternatives, including more information on hammocking, which I'd recommend if you're up for it (#7 on the list).

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