Neck pain after sleeping

The Consequence of Sleeping the Wrong Way

Since you will spend about one-third of your life sleeping in a bed, the type of pillow you choose is an important part of preventing or managing neck pain.

One of the most common causes of neck pain is having your neck twisted or bent too far in any direction for a long time. If you wake up in the morning with a painful neck, it may be because your pillow is not supporting your head and neck in the right position, which is described as a “neutral” position. That means that the normal slight curve of your neck is not changed.

Neck Pain: The Right Position in Bed

Even before they go to sleep, one mistake that many people make is not supporting their head properly while reading or watching television in bed. Avoid propping yourself up on several pillows with your head bent forward. If you are reading, make sure your arms are supported and your head is in a neutral position. When it comes to getting some shut-eye, the best position for sleeping is on your back or your side. Avoid sleeping on your stomach, because this forces your head to be twisted into an unnatural position.

Neck Pain: Picking the Right Pillow

Finding the right pillow can improve the quality of your sleep and prevent or reduce neck pain, according to studies on pillow use. If you sleep on your side, pick a pillow that just fills the space between your ear and your mattress without tilting your head. If you sleep on your back, your pillow should keep your head from tilting backward or forward.

There are many pillow options to choose from. The goal is a pillow that gives you good support as well as a good night’s sleep. The basic rule is to find a pillow that keeps your neck in that neutral position. Here are some choices worth a test drive:

Orthopedic pillows. These are pillows that are designed to maintain the natural curve of your neck.

Feather pillows. The old-fashioned feather pillow may be the right choice for you, as long as you aren’t allergic to down or other feathers. These pillows can be molded to fit the shape of your head and offer less resistance than foam.

Cervical pillows. These are roll-shaped pillows designed to relieve neck stress and neck pain by maintaining the natural shape of your head and neck while you sleep.

Water-filled pillows. Water pillows supports your neck by absorbing and redistributing weight. A study done at Johns Hopkins found that sleeping with a water-filled pillow had some advantages over standard down or foam pillows or even cervical roll pillows in reducing neck pain for some of the study participants. One advantage of the water pillow is that you can customize the amount of support it provides: the more water you add, the firmer the support, and vice versa.

If you are waking up with neck pain, if you want to avoid it to begin with, or if it’s been so long since you bought pillows that you don’t even know how old yours are, you might want to do some shopping at your local bedding store. Since you spend a good chunk of your life sleeping, one of the best ways to ensure sweet dreams is to get the most comfortable pillows you can find.

How to Prevent Neck Pain While Sleeping

Check to see if you’re making one of these ouch-inducing bedtime mistakes.

Neck pain can be a real, well, pain in the neck. While some causes—like the wear and tear of aging, arthritis, or even an injury like a slipped disk—may be out of your control, many common triggers are things that you can control, like the way you’re hitting the hay at night. Check out if something on the following list is causing that crick in your neck.

Your Pillow

A pillow is supposed to position your head so that it’s in a healthy, neutral position. That means that your nose is in line with the center of your body, or your spine. If you use too fat of a pillow, your neck and head will be bent upwards. On the other hand, if you use too flat of a pillow, your head and neck will be bent downwards. When choosing what type of pillow to buy, consider a feather or memory foam one that molds comfortably to the shape of your neck.

Your Sleeping Position

Chances are, you figured out your preferred snoozing position years ago, and old habits die hard. But the truth is, if you’re a stomach sleeper, you’re not doing your neck any favors. When you sleep on your stomach, you have to twist your head and neck to the side, which can put pressure on nerves. Converting yourself to side or back sleeping may help you to wake up pain-free.

Your Muscles are Stiff/Weak

If, despite switching up your pillow and sleeping position, you still can’t nix neck pain, or if your neck pain is caused by an injury or chronic condition like arthritis, consider seeing a physical therapist. Learning exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the neck may help you feel like your old self again.

Your Sleep Hygiene

It’s an unfortunate reality that sleep problems can cause neck pain, which, in turn, can cause more sleep problems. This can leave you in a tough-to-beat cycle. If that sounds like you, consider giving your sleep habits a check-up. Good practices include going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (including weekends), getting regular exercise, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and powering down screens well before you hit the sack. Still no improvement? Talk to your doctor about your sleep problems, since getting a good night’s rest may be the ticket to beating your neck pain, too.

How to Avoid Waking Up with a Stiff Neck

Ouch! It happened again. You’ve just opened your eyes and tried to move your neck only to find it stiff and painful when you attempt to tilt or turn your head toward one side.While there are many reasons a person may experience neck pain (some of which are quite serious and require immediate medical attention) what is being covered in this article is how to avoid neck pain specifically caused by improper sleep positions, or what’s more commonly known as “sleeping wrong.”

When you’re a sound sleeper, over-tired, or you’ve consumed one too many glasses of wine it’s easy to fall into bed and remain in one spot for several hours without changing positions. Sleeping in prolonged or awkward positions can tighten muscles, compress nerves and cause considerable neck pain upon waking. Sleep position is not always something that can be controlled, however the best approach to avoiding waking up with this type of neck pain is to start out sleeping in a position that puts the least amount of stress on the neck area.

In most cases, back sleeping is most desirable to help you avoid pain as it allows for your head, neck and spine to maintain a neutral position. Typically, a pillow under your head and one under your knees will help you achieve this position. (From a vanity standpoint, back sleeping won’t promote wrinkles caused by side, stomach and fetal sleeping positions.)

Side sleeping is the second best to back sleeping, however it’s important to note that the space above your shoulder needs to be filled so that your head and neck are supported in a neutral position. Hugging a body pillow while side sleeping is helpful in keeping the entire spine safe. If you are pregnant, sleeping on your left side is recommend as it is best for blood flow.

Stomach sleeping, with the neck turned to one side for an extended period of time, leaves the neck most vulnerable to neck pain and injury. While you may not feel the aches and pains associated with stomach sleeping right away, overtime waking up with a stiff neck may begin happening more frequently.

Cold drafts from air-conditioners or an open window can also make neck muscles tighten during sleep, resulting in the inability to turn your head in the morning. Sleep experts recommend maintaining a consistent room temperature somewhere between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Inadequate pillows and/or mattresses are also known culprits behind waking up with neck pain.

A great day begins with a good night of sleep! If you are experiencing neck pain upon waking speak to your physical therapist about finding the correct type of pillow and proper sleep position for you.

Say “good night” to neck pain

Awareness of sleeping positions and proper pillows can minimize neck pain

As with so many things, when it comes to neck pain, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure. It’s true that some causes of neck pain, such as age-related wear and tear, are not under your control. On the other hand, there are many things you can do to minimize your risk. One place to start is to look at how you sleep and what effect this may have on neck pain.

What is the best sleeping position for neck pain?

Two sleeping positions are easiest on the neck: on your side or on your back. If you sleep on your back, choose a rounded pillow to support the natural curve of your neck, with a flatter pillow cushioning your head. This can be achieved by tucking a small neck roll into the pillowcase of a flatter, softer pillow, or by using a special pillow that has a built-in neck support with an indentation for the head to rest in. Here are some additional tips for side- and back-sleepers:

  1. Try using a feather pillow, which easily conforms to the shape of the neck. Feather pillows will collapse over time, however, and should be replaced every year or so.
  2. Another option is a traditionally shaped pillow with “memory foam” that conforms to the contour of your head and neck. Some cervical pillows are also made with memory foam. Manufacturers of memory-foam pillows claim they help foster proper spinal alignment.
  3. Avoid using too high or stiff a pillow, which keeps the neck flexed overnight and can result in morning pain and stiffness.
  4. If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head.
  5. When you are riding in a plane, train, or car, or even just reclining to watch TV, a horseshoe-shaped pillow can support your neck and prevent your head from dropping to one side if you doze. If the pillow is too large behind the neck, however, it will force your head forward.

Sleeping on your stomach is tough on your spine, because the back is arched and your neck is turned to the side. Preferred sleeping positions are often set early in life and can be tough to change, not to mention that we don’t often wake up in the same position in which we fell asleep. Still, it’s worth trying to start the night sleeping on your back or side in a well-supported, healthy position.

Beyond sleep position

Research suggests that not just sleep position, but sleep itself, can play a role in musculoskeletal pain, including neck and shoulder pain. In one study, researchers compared musculoskeletal pain in 4,140 healthy men and women with and without sleeping problems. Sleeping problems included difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking early in the mornings, and non-restorative sleep. They found that people who reported moderate to severe problems in at least three of these four categories were significantly more likely to develop chronic musculoskeletal pain after one year than those who reported little or no problem with sleep. One possible explanation is that sleep disturbances disrupt the muscle relaxation and healing that normally occur during sleep. Additionally, it is well established that pain can disrupt sleep, contributing to a vicious cycle of pain disrupting sleep, and sleep problems contributing to pain.

For the latest in sleep research, information about the numerous health conditions and medications that can interfere with normal sleep, as well as medications used to treat sleep disorders, buy the Harvard Special Health Report Improving Sleep: A guide to a good night’s rest.

Image: © Vadymvdrobot |

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

If you’re like most people, you experience occasional neck pain and discomfort. And because many of us have poor sleep habits, it’s possible you’ve experienced a neck stiffness after sleeping as well.

The truth is, a stiff neck can be caused by a whole host of reasons. Some of these can be related to the sleep itself, while for others, sleep may simply be the aggravator.

And neck pain won’t show up the same for everyone. Depending on the cause of your neck pain, there can be a whole host of symptoms, including:

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Difficulty lifting or gripping objects
  • Grinding, cracking, or popping of bones
  • Headaches
  • Jaw stiffness and pain
  • Numbness
  • Radiating pain
  • Sharp pain
  • Sleeping issues
  • Tingling
  • Weakness of grip

If you experience neck stiffness after sleeping, read on to learn:

  • The causes of a stiff neck after sleeping.
  • How to relieve your stiff neck (including one way to cure neck stiffness instantly).
  • How to prevent neck pain in the future.

Plus, you’ll learn about a super easy-to-use device that can treat neck pain and stiffness painlessly. Read to the bottom to learn more.

What Causes Neck Stiffness After Sleeping?

No matter when you first start feeling your neck pain or stiffness, there’s always a cause. When you feel neck stiffness first thing upon waking up, you may assume it to be directly caused by an incorrect sleeping position.

But the truth is, neck stiffness after sleeping can be influenced by quite a few factors. Some of these include:

  • Weak or imbalanced muscles: You may have noticed neck pain or stiffness at other times of the day other than first thing in the morning. If that’s the case, your neck pain may be due to weak or injured muscles. This is common in many people today due to chronic sitting positions and poor posture habits. It can be hard to get a better posture, but your body will thank you. The device we share later is great at helping your posture. You should also remember to check your posture throughout the day. Set a timer for every hour to remind you.
  • Injury or stress: Many times neck stiffness is called by a minor or partially healed major injury. In this case, the muscles around the injury tense up in an effort to protect it from further harm. Neck injuries can be slow to heal, especially due to all the stress we hold in our necks. Be sure to give yourself plenty of rest after any major or minor neck injury (and follow some of the effective pain-relief techniques below).
  • Improper sleep position: Sometimes, your neck can be perfectly healthy and you can simply roll off your pillow leaving your neck in a kink. Many times, this will cause an extremely painful form of neck pain that generally subsides quickly. Just be sure to do some stretching exercises and other cures for neck stiffness to heal quickly. You can also follow some of the suggestions for choosing a pillow and sleeping position below that promotes neck support and ensures a good night’s sleep.
  • Sudden movement: Though less common, some people experience jerking or rolling over quickly in their sleep. Sometimes, this can cause soreness or even a minor injury to the muscles and joints in the neck. Though a problem for those with night terrors or other sleeping issues, this isn’t an issue for most people.
  • Unfortunately, knowing the causes of neck stiffness isn’t enough to end it forever. You also have to know what to do when you get it.

    How to Relieve a Stiff and Sore Neck

    When it comes to neck pain relief, there are many options out there and many of them can be effective depending on the specifics of your case.

    You can experiment with a combination of treatments or you can start by using an effective and easy to use cervical traction device (more on that below).

    In addition to treating your neck stiffness, it’s important to stop the source. For example, if stress is the cause of your neck stiffness, then it’s important to take time to relax and unwind.

    Be sure to consult your doctor to make sure the following treatments and neck exercises are safe for you.

    For many people that experience neck pain and stiffness, the first thing they do is stretch their sore neck. This can be effective in the short run, but many people end up yanking on their neck, which can further aggravate the stiffness and increase inflammation.

    But because the yanking causes momentary relief, it can cause a vicious cycle of yanking and stiffness, and could potentially lead to a neck strain. Trust us, don’t yank your neck.

    But you can do some gentle stretching. Some simple stretches for neck strain and stiffness are:

  • Side-to-side: With your head in a neutral position, inhale and turn your head to the left slowly. When you’ve turned as far as you can without straining, hold for 10-20 seconds remembering to breathe. On an exhale, return to your neutral position. Repeat on the right side.
  • Ear-to-shoulder: With your head in a neutral position, inhale lifting your left hand. Place your left hand on the right side of your face and gently allow the weight of your hand to drop your head to the side and give your neck a stretch. You should feel it in the right side of your neck. Make sure to breathe and hold this position for 10-20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
  • Front-to-back: With your head in a neutral position, exhale and drop your chin to your chest. You should feel a stretch on the back of your neck. If you want a deeper stretch, gently place your hands on the back of your head. Breathe and hold for 10-20 seconds. On an inhale, lift your head up all the way until the back of your head is close to your back. Breathe and hold for 10-20 seconds before returning to neutral on an exhale.
  • If any stretches begin to hurt or feel uncomfortable, stop immediately. If the stretching exercises are comfortable for you, you can do them multiple times or hold them for longer periods.

    But stretching isn’t the only type of movement that will help reduce severe neck pain. Read on to learn some other exercises you can add to your daily routine.

    Range of Motion Exercises

    In addition to stretching the muscles of the neck, you can do some range of motion exercises designed to keep your neck mobile.

    These exercises will keep muscles strong and relaxed, and encourage blood flow to constricted muscles. You can try:

  • Shoulder blade rollers: Standing normally, roll your shoulders up and forward until they began to go down and make a circle. You should feel a slight stretch or tension in your shoulder the entire time, but it shouldn’t be painful. Do this ten times. Now, roll your shoulders back in circles. Do this ten times.
  • Shoulder circles: Stand normally with your hands straight out to the side, palms facing up. Move your arms in small circles backwards. Do this for a count of 10 before switching and circling forward. You can also experiment with larger circles.
  • Neck rotations: Standing with your head neutral, gently roll your head back and then to the left. Let the momentum continue the rotation for a full circle. Do this 3-5 times before switching and rotating the other way.
  • You may have noticed that two of the exercises above were based on increasing range of motion in the shoulders and not the neck. This is because the health and comfort of the neck are largely connected to the health of your shoulders.

    As I’m sure you can guess, the neck rests on the shoulders. So if you have tight or unstable shoulders, the neck can become tight or unstable.

    So if you have a tight neck, it’s a good idea to give your shoulders some attention too.

    Professional or Personal Massage

    It’s been known for centuries that massage can alleviate a lot of the pain and symptoms associated with a stiff neck. The healing effects are due to a few different things.

    First, the pressure of the massage can relieve some of the muscle tension that is so often held in the muscles of our neck.

    In addition, the pressure will stimulate the circulation of blood and lymph, which oxygenates the muscles and speeds recovery.

    You may not always have the time or means to go in and pay for a massage, but you can always perform a self-massage using a personal massager, a tennis or lacrosse ball, or even your hands.

    A great self-massage technique for neck stiffness is to take a tennis ball and place it in between your upper shoulder and a wall. Using the weight of your body, place pressure on the ball and move in small circles.

    Go slow. You should be able to feel some tension in your shoulder, and if done for long enough, some of that tension should melt away.

    Switch sides, then take a break. Feel free to do this as often as you need to achieve relief.

    Cervical Traction

    Remember we mentioned the one way to cure neck stiffness instantly? Well, cervical traction is the answer.

    Cervical traction is a highly effective method used to treat and prevent neck pain. It works by applying a light force, gently pulling the head away from the neck.

    This allows the muscles along the spinal cord to relax and gradually stretch. In doing so, the ligaments around the spine also begin to stretch.

    In addition, cervical traction brings increased blood flow and oxygenation, which will decrease discomfort and aid healing.

    Preventing Neck Pain After Sleeping

    Though treating neck pain is great, stopping neck pain from developing in the first place is the way to go. Using a cervical traction device regularly can help prevent neck pain from appearing in the first place.

    But there are some other things you can do to help prevent neck pain as well. Here are some common tips recommended for preventing neck pain after sleep:

  • Use a high-quality pillow: One of the most important factors when considering neck stiffness after sleep is the effectiveness of your pillow. Getting a high-quality pillow doesn’t always mean you have to buy the most expensive one, it just means you have to find one that works for you. For example, some people like feather pillows because they gently conform to your head. However, feather pillows become flat over time and need to be replaced often. Some pillows are now made with ‘memory foam’ and can provide durability and comfort. The most important thing to remember is to avoid using an extremely stiff or high pillow that forces your head to be flexed up, ensuring an optimal sleeping posture.
  • Change your position: Generally, health professionals agree that you should sleep in one of two positions. Either 1) on your back, or 2) on your side. They disagree over which ones better, but almost everyone agrees that sleeping on your stomach is a bad idea. Experiment with whether sleeping on your back or side is best. Depending on which position you sleep in could also affect the pillow you end up choosing.
  • Avoid sleeping in chairs: If we fall asleep in a chair (watching late-night TV for example), we can often experience neck pain or stiffness. This is because sleeping in a chair can force the neck into unnatural or uncomfortable positions. If you’re forced to sleep in a chair, such as in a car or on a plane, you can bring a small pillow to support your neck. You can also buy a horseshoe-shaped ‘travel pillow’ for additional neck support.
  • Treating Neck Stiffness Every Day

    The fact is that there’s no one-time solution to neck stiffness. Because we demand a lot of our bodies, sometimes our bodies need to rest, and they tell us this by crying out in pain or stiffness.

    But, by incorporating a few of the above measures every day, you can help to prevent neck stiffness before it begins.

    For example, using a cervical traction device daily can ease tension in the muscles that cause neck stiffness, while stimulating blood circulation, oxygenation, and healing.

    Find out more about cervical traction and how it can help treat your chronic neck stiffness.

    If your neck stiffness just won’t go away, read more about when to see a doctor.

    Is it Possible to Ease Neck Pain From Sleeping?

    Most of us have woken up with a stiff neck every so often, but for some of us, neck pain from sleeping is a far more serious issue. It can be seriously detrimental to your everyday life, leading you to wonder if there are any real solutions to this problem.

    So is it possible to ease this type of pain and, if it is, how do you go about this process? Is it really as simple as just changing your sleeping arrangement? The answer is yes and no. While changing the way you sleep can ease the strain in some cases, in other cases it may take a little more effort to resolve the issue. Let’s take a look at what causes this problem and what you can do to get a better night’s rest.

    Why Your Neck Hurts After Sleeping – The Main Culprit

    When people wake up with a sore neck, they usually say they “slept on their neck wrong.” However, this may not be exactly the right way to think about this issue. Rather than sleeping with their neck twisted or in an awkward position, most people experience discomfort because they are sleeping in a position that strains the neck – often because of the placement of their pillow. In many cases, the problem is the use of too many pillows, or else a pillow that is too firm or that is too high.

    This strain causes stiffening and minor pain in the ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the neck, which can take anywhere from one to three days to heal. While not a major injury, it’s enough to cause a disruption in your life, which leads to the next question – how can you go about changing things to avoid it?

    Changing Up Your Sleeping Position

    Side Sleeping

    Back Sleeping

    One of the most basic changes that you can make is in your sleeping position. Sleeping on your side or back is best for avoiding strain. Either position helps keep your head in the right position. However, you should take the appropriate measures in the pillows that you are using to avoid your head resting in an unnatural position.

    Sleeping on your stomach elevates your head and neck into an unnatural position during the night, causing the aforementioned strain. It is best to avoid sleeping on your stomach altogether. If you find it difficult to avoid sleeping on your stomach, it can be a good idea to invest in a body pillow to hold onto during the night. It will help keep you from turning over and will replicate the feeling of being on your stomach.

    Choosing a Pillow for Your Sleeping Style

    To that end, it is also ideal to choose a pillow that is suited for your sleeping position.

    Back Sleepers

    Back sleepers should choose a rounded pillow that will firmly support the head and curve up to support the neck. Down feather pillows are a good option for those without allergies; alternatives are available as well that replicate the softness of down.

    Side Sleepers

    Side sleepers should look for a moderately firm pillow that will support their head while also dipping into the curve of their neck to support it during the night. Memory foam pillows are a good option for side sleepers, as the foam will conform to the shape of their head and neck.

    Most Sleepers

    While a traditional pillow is still the best for most sleepers, a cervical pillow that curves around the neck can also be a great option for both styles of sleepers. Memory foam cervical pillows can provide great all-around support to the neck throughout the night.

    This pillow made with shredded Memory Foam from Coop Home Goods is a great option for both back and side sleepers, and is recommended for both. The shredded Memory Foam gives it the appropriate firmness for sleepers of both styles, as it has the softness needed for back sleepers as well as the support for side sleepers.

    Buy Now

    When You Should Seek Help for Neck Pain

    It is important to note that not all cases of neck pain from sleeping will go away on their own, and that there are a few circumstances in which you should seek help. If you find that your neck pain persists, it could be a sign that you are experiencing more than simple neck strain. Examples of other neck pain issues include worn joints, osteoarthritis, or even injuries such as whiplash, which may not show up until after a significant injury has occurred.



    If your neck pain is very severe, or if your neck is twisted to the side, you may also be experiencing a condition called acute torticollis. This condition may simply be caused because you slept on your neck wrong or because of other environmental factors, or it could be caused by infection or injury, so if it persists, medical help may be needed.

    If you have recently experienced an injury, or if your neck pain does not go away on its own after a few days, seek help from your doctor.


    Fortunately for most of us who’ve dealt with this issue – and I know I’m one of them – neck pain from sleeping is pretty easy to deal with. It just takes a few adjustments in your sleeping habits and knowing the right products to use to help avoid the strain that leads to this problem in the first place. The Memory Foam pillow from Coop Home Goods comes highly recommended for all types of sleepers, and if you have any more questions we’d love to hear them! So just remember –

    • Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
    • Use the right pillow for your sleeping style.
    • Seek medical attention if pain persists.

    Neck pain be gone! You can rest easy in knowing that in a couple of easy steps you will hopefully never say you slept on your neck wrong ever again.

    “During the day, you’re moving around, which keeps the fluid flowing. But the lack of movement at night can lead to inflammation, stiffness and pain come morning.”

    First, rule out conditions that cause morning stiffness and pain

    If you see a doctor for your pain, he or she will likely want to do some simple screening tests to determine if immobility-induced inflammation is what’s causing it. Your doctor will want to rule out other conditions that cause inflammation of joints and tissues, such as:

    • A recent viral infection, like Lyme disease.
    • Thyroid disease.
    • Low levels of vitamin D.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis.

    If there isn’t an underlying condition causing your pain, it’s time to take action.

    8 strategies to help you get back to restful sleep

    Update your sleep software. Sometimes you can achieve a great night’s sleep with a simple pillow adjustment. The right pillow correctly aligns the part of your spine that’s in your neck so that muscle tightness doesn’t occur when you sleep. Or you may need a new mattress. Consider a mattress an investment in your health. “We recommend a firm (but not TOO firm) mattress for the best-quality sleep,” Dr. Girgis says.

    Switch up your diet. Avoid foods that promote inflammation. The Mediterranean diet, which features a lot of veggies, fruits, whole grains and seafood, may increase the antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.

    Exercise (but don’t overdo it). Movement lubricates joints, which keeps pain and stiffness at bay. Be careful though: Exercising near bedtime or overtraining can lead to insomnia. “Shoot for 30 minutes a day, five days a week,” Dr. Girgis says.

    Take a vitamin D supplement. Your bones and muscles need vitamin D for optimal health. Most people don’t get enough vitamin D through their diet, so talk to your doctor about choosing a supplement or foods with added vitamin D.

    Try a new sleeping position. Sleeping on your stomach could be contributing to your morning pain. Instead, sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees to keep your spine in a neutral position. Alternatively, you can sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees.

    Keep your muscles supple. Inflammation can occur when muscle mass breaks down. Find ways to maintain your muscles — gym membership not required.

    “Yoga is a great way to maintain muscle mass because you’re using your body weight to keep muscles healthy,” says Dr. Girgis. “Other options may include lifting a heavy cookbook as a weight or performing squats at your desk.”

    Relieve stress. Exercise, yoga and massage relieve inflammation by increasing blood flow to your muscles. You can also incorporate mindfulness meditation, which has been clinically shown to change the way your brain processes pain. Over time, pain intensity decreases with meditation. To meditate, concentrate just on breathing. If your attention wanders, return your focus to your breathing or the sounds around you. Start with a minute and build up to more time.

    Stub out cigarettes for good. There are so many reasons to quit smoking, but you can add pain relief to the list. “Smoking prevents oxygenated blood from reaching bones and tissues,” says Dr. Girgis. “It also limits the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood, making the blood quality lower. The result is weakened muscles.”

    The Best Sleeping Positions to Wake Up Pain-Free

    Posted in Health & Wellness

    When it comes to muscular, joint and bone pain, sleep may play an integral role. If you’re having trouble settling your body’s score with pain, you might want to consider a few pain-free sleeping positions. Depending upon your consistent morning ailments, a few positions might reduce pain—or strike it out, altogether. Take a look at the following sleeping positions experts believe reduce ongoing morning pain:

    Sleeping On Your Back with a Pillow Under Your Legs

    A lot of sleep studies suggest sleeping on your back, with a pillow situated beneath the crooks of your legs, can aid in maintaining your lower back curve. This might seem like a subtle aid, but it’s entirely conducive to a morning free of back stress. If you’re having trouble maintaining a position, or if your pillow “deflates” overnight, consider placing a small, rolled-up towel beneath the small of your back to hold your body in place.

    Sleeping On Your Stomach

    More and more pain-ridden individuals are sleeping on their stomachs to reduce morning back pain. Understandably, you’ll reduce pressure on your back by not sleeping on it at all. Place a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis, and add another beneath your head if you’re still experiencing strain. You’ll be surprised by the morning results.

    Sleeping On Your Side with Leg Support

    If you face lower back and neck pain constantly, you should try out sleeping on your side. More importantly: You should sleep on your side with leg support. In doing so, you can maintain your back’s naturally curved position. Rest on your side, keep your knees bent, slightly, and keep your hips straight. By letting your top hip flop a little, you’ll prevent lumbar rotation—and thus prevent nightly, and morning, pain.

    Sleeping On Your Back with Shoulder Support

    If you face rotator cuff pain—or shoulder pain, in general—try sleeping on your back with a small pillow nested between your shoulder blades. Often, morning shoulder pain is caused by your body’s flatness during nighttime hours. You may still experience pain from resting on your back alone, so don’t forget to enforce your shoulders’ natural bends by keeping the area between them raised.

    Sleeping with a Towel Beneath Your Neck

    If you face morning neck pain, you should consider giving your head a little more support. Neck pain, primarily, is caused by the cranium’s weight during nighttime hours. By rolling up a small hand towel beneath your neck, however, you can additionally support your head and prevent hourly stress. Neck pillows, too, are a good choice if you’re sleeping on your back. If, however, you’re still experiencing pain, you should alter the pillow beneath your head—or remove it.

    Sleeping with a Flat Pillow

    Speaking of pillows, you may be able to reduce neck and shoulder stress by lowering your head’s elevation. If you’re waking up with consistent pain in your upper back, neck, shoulders or collarbone area, try buying a flatter pillow. Or, buy an orthopedic pillow. Pillows with deeper depressions support the head better, and they’ll increase neck support over several nights—comforting persistent pain while reducing more stress.

    When in Doubt, Sleep at an Incline

    If you’ve tried everything, and if you’re still facing morning discomfort, you may need to sleep at an incline. A lot of people prefer sitting in a recliner, or upon an adjustable bed, to maintain healthy spine support while easing nightly stress. Don’t worry: You’ll get used to the slant in time.

    Overall, you should maintain a healthy schedule of at least eight hours of sleep per night. Treat your body with care, and don’t give it a reason to toss and turn, needlessly, throughout the week. Additionally, it may be time to visit your physical therapist to further reduce pain. Often, a physical therapist can help relieve pain through hands-on treatment, and custom exercises to improve flexibility and strength.


    3 Sleep Positions That Will Fight Morning Pain and Stiffness

    Are you woken up every day by morning pain and stiffness? While these symptoms may be annoying or uncomfortable, don’t fret. It’s likely nothing serious.

    Typically, morning back pain is a result of low-grade inflammation, which gets worse with age and is noticeably worse at the start of the day. The most underestimated culprit of early morning pain and stiffness is strain due to awkward sleeping positions or using the wrong pillow, and the back is one of the most vulnerable areas for this this type of irritation.

    If your pillow is too high or stiff, your neck will remain flexed overnight, which can lead to morning pain and stiffness. Here are the best sleeping positions to help you minimize morning pain and discomfort:

    If you have early morning neck/back pain, try to sleep on your side or your back.

    Back Sleepers

    When sleeping on your back, use a rounded pillow under your neck to support its natural curve, and a flatter pillow to cushion your head. An easy way to achieve this is to tuck a neck roll into the bottom of a flat pillow. To maintain the natural “S” curve of your spine, use pillows to support your lower back and knees.

    Side Sleepers

    When sleeping on your side, avoid using pillows that are too high or too low. Keep your spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under your neck than under your head. This is one of the healthiest sleeping positions for your back because it allows you to maintain the natural “S” shape of your spine. However, Gravity can pull your lower back down and using a pillow that is too high will put strain on your neck. To support the natural curvature of your spine, you may also want to consider using a pillow to support your lower back and knees.

    Stomach Sleepers

    Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach. This position is tough on your spine because it arches your back and turns your neck to the side. It may be hard to control how you toss and turn throughout your sleep in the night, but it is worth trying to fall asleep in a healthy position, as this posture is notorious for causing lower back pain and muscle strain. If you absolutely cannot fall asleep in another position, try using a pillow under the hips/pelvic area to raise your lower back and support your lumbar curve.

    If your symptoms continue to persist or worsen, you may want to consider consulting a physical therapist. You cam learn more about the conditions we treat here.

    *As a reminder, always discuss any questions or concerns with your physician regarding your own health and dietary needs, as the information written should not replace any medical advice.

    If you experience an achy neck upon awakening in the morning, your pillow habits could be to blame. You may be using pillows to “overstuff” the space between your neck and the mattress or be sleeping on an older, flattened pillow. Fluffy feather pillows are usually better than foam for providing proper support; replace them as necessary, every year or so. And do not sleep on your stomach if you have neck issues.

    During the day, help your neck by not sitting too long in one position. If you have frequent phone conversations, use a speakerphone o r hands-free heads e t . And if you read in bed often, try using a wedge pillow designed to hold the book in the proper position, so you do not hunch your shoulders and hold your arms awkwardly—a certain recipe for neck pain.

    Your neck pain could also be radiating from your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the jaw-skull juncture, which is affected if you grind your teeth, clench and unclench your jaw often or chew lots of gum. Or, if you are over age 50, you could have osteoarthritis (age-related degeneration) of the neck, also called the cervical spine.

    Reduce the pain so you can use your neck fully, because with too much rest, your neck muscles will become deconditioned, contributing to even more problems. Easy-to-implement solutions may include

    • gentle stretching right before bed and when you get up
    • a hot shower after arising;
    • physical therapy, including custom-designed stretches and strengthening exercises; and
    • ice application (15–20 minutes), acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), if your physician recommends this, to reduce the pain so you can more comfortably stretch and exercise.

    If, after taking these measures, your neck pain persists, we can prescribe other measures to help you to lose that “pain in the neck” feeling.

    Why you wake sore, stiff, and unrested

    Pain, inflammation, and sleep

    We all want to wake up feeling rested and refreshed, mind and body ready to dive into the day. Unfortunately, for many people, that’s not how mornings begin. I see patients every day who are frustrated by waking with pain, stiffness, and fatigue. “Why do I feel so physically uncomfortable when I get out of bed?” is the question I hear again and again.

    The truth is, there could be a number of sources of soreness, stiffness, and discomfort first thing in the morning. It may involve the sleep equipment you’re using—your bed and pillow. It also may be related to inflammation, coming from one source or another.

    Let’s take a look at what can cause morning pain and fatigue—and what you can do to improve it.

    Check in with your sleep gear
    When you’re feeling sore, stiff, or pain upon waking, the first place to look for answers is your sleep equipment—specifically, your mattress and pillow. Remember: sleep is a performance activity. If you hiked a mountain in shoes that don’t fit, you’d probably finish the climb in some pain. The same idea applies to sleep. To do it well, you need the right equipment, and you need to replace that equipment when it’s worn out.

    Your mattress needs to supply you with both support and comfort. A supportive mattress:
    • holds your entire body, without sinking at the hips
    • allows relief and comfort at pressure points, including the knees, hips, shoulders, and head
    • lets your muscles relax throughout the body, especially at your back

    Only you can be the judge of what is comfortable to you in a mattress. Keep in mind, your comfort preferences are likely to change with age. As people grow older, they often need a softer feeling bed, particularly to help address pain issues. Some say this has to do with less fat under your skin as a cushion.

    The typical lifespan of a mattress is 7-8 years. But you can’t automatically count on getting that long out of your bed. Here are a couple things to keep in mind, when assessing the viability of your mattress:

    Less expensive mattresses have shorter lives. Mattresses are expensive. They’re also an important investment in your sleep and health. It’s a good idea to spend as much as you can afford investing in a high-quality bed. If you went with a less-expensive mattress four or five years ago, it may no longer be able to provide you the support and comfort you need.

    Needs for support and comfort change as we age. Throughout our lives, our bodies undergo changes that affect what we need from our mattresses. Weight loss and weight gain, changes to fitness levels, pregnancy, and conditions such as back pain or neck pain are all factors that can mean it is time for a new mattress. With age, many people need a supportive mattress that is softer, for comfort throughout the night.

    It’s not just about your mattress, though. Your pillow is also important to your ability to sleep. The right pillow can make the difference between waking sore and stiff and waking relaxed and rested.

    What does your pillow do for you? It aligns your cervical spine (that’s the part of the spine that’s in your neck), so there is no bend or muscle tightness in your neck while you sleep. A pillow that is too thick or too thin will put your cervical spine out of alignment. That’s likely to lead to neck pain and upper back pain.

    The easiest way to tell if a pillow is providing you support is to lie down in your sleeping position, and have a friend or bed partner see if your head and neck are in alignment.

    A pillow also needs to provide comfort, as well as support. The comfort of your pillow is a subjective measurement that is yours to determine. Your pillow needs to feel good. I recommend keeping a selection of pillows that provide you with support and are comfortable.

    Pillows don’t last forever—far from it. I recommend replacing pillows every 18 months, to ensure you’re getting the most support and comfort. Memory foam pillows may last longer, up to 3 years.

    Inflammation and sleep problems
    You’re probably getting used to hearing about inflammation and health issues. There’s good reason for that. Chronic and excessive inflammation are recognized as a cause of illness and disease, diminished physical function, and accelerated aging. As a result of several possible factors, inflammation can be a reason for waking up feeling uncomfortable and unrested.

    What is inflammation?
    Inflammation is an important element of the body’s immune system. Inflammation is a response to the body’s perception of illness, injury, disease, and pathogens that might cause harm. Among the most common symptoms of inflammation are swelling, pain, and stiffness. Inflammation is part of the body’s healing process, it’s way of repairing damaged cells and tissues. So, not all inflammation is bad; there is some inflammation that is good and necessary for health. Chronic and systemic inflammation, however, is harmful to health over the long term. Both “good” and “bad” inflammation can lead to sleep problems.

    Let’s take a look at several factors that can trigger inflammation and may contribute to stiffness, soreness, and pain at the end of a night’s sleep:

    Injury and illness. When sick or injured, the body responds with inflammation. This can lead to pain and discomfort that may interfere with how well you sleep and create physical pain and stiffness upon waking. This is the case if you are fighting off a cold, or if you’ve twisted your ankle running around with your kids on the playground. It’s also the case with more serious illnesses and chronic conditions, including arthritis. For many conditions, symptoms tend to be worse at night, which can lead to feeling a lot of discomfort in the morning. What’s more, pain and sleep have a bi-directional relationship: they each influence the other. Poor sleep makes us more sensitive to pain, and the presence of pain makes it harder to sleep.

    What you can do: Treating your condition, and managing pain as a part of treatment, can help you sleep better and feel less uncomfortable and tired when you wake.

    Aging. Aging appears to be both a result of inflammation and a contributor to it. Systemic, low-grade inflammation becomes more common with age. So do morning stiffness, soreness, pain, and unrefreshing sleep. Levels of C-reactive protein, a key inflammatory marker, tend to rise with age in many people.

    What you can do: Take care of yourself, physically and mentally. Manage stress, maintain a healthy weight, and be physically active. Stay on top of your health with regular visits to your physician, including blood work that screens C-reactive protein and other inflammatory markers.

    Autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakes the body’s own healthy cells for harmful invader cells. The immune system mounts an attack on those healthy cells, and that includes an inflammatory response. We don’t know how many people have autoimmune conditions—the National Institutes of Health estimates 23.5 million, while the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association estimates that number at 50 million. The prevalence of autoimmune diseases has been rising in the U.S. and in other Western countries for decades. There are more than 80 autoimmune disorders identified, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease. Inflammation, and with it physical pain and poor sleep that can extend through the night to early morning, are common symptoms among these disorders.

    What you can do: If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, follow your treatment protocol. If you’re experiencing chronic or unusual fatigue, stiffness, or pain first thing in the morning or at any time of day, see your doctor for a check in—and be sure to talk about your sleep issues while you’re there.

    Diet. The foods we eat can contribute to escalating inflammation—or they can help reduce and control it. Foods that trigger inflammation include ones laden with unhealthful fats and sugar, including fried foods, red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates like white bread, cookies, and cakes, and soda. An anti-inflammatory diet is full of vegetables, fruits, nuts fiber-rich whole grains, and wild-caught fish. The Mediterranean diet is a model for eating to limit inflammation.

    What you can do: If you’re experiencing unrefreshing sleep, pain, stiffness and discomfort in the morning, take a fresh look at your diet. Swap out pro-inflammatory foods for anti-inflammatory ones, and keep your intake of processed foods and sweets to a minimum.

    Too little—or too much—exercise.
    We still have a lot to learn about the relationship between physical activity and inflammation. Regular exercise appears to limit inflammation, especially as we age. A sedentary lifestyle can result in more pain and stiffness in the morning, and throughout the day. Research shows exercise improves sleep quality across the adult lifetime, as well as reducing some physical pain during sleep and lowering levels of daytime fatigue.

    Over-training is an increasingly common problem I see among my patients who exercise—a problem that can lead to sleep issues and discomfort. Insomnia is one of the first symptoms of overtraining, according to research. Exercising too much or too intensely can lead to injury—and inflammation and pain that interfere with sleep. Over-use injuries related to exercise become more common with age. Exercise is great for the body, great for health, and great for sleep—but if you work out too hard or too often, you’re likely to feel some negative effects, including sleep and pain in the morning, and during the day.

    What you can do: The National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise a week for healthy adults—that’s 30 minutes a day, five days a week. To improve sleep, research suggests a consistent exercise routine has the greatest benefits, especially for people who experience difficulty sleeping.

    Don’t resign yourself to uncomfortable, stiff-limbed mornings of rising from bed feeling tired and sore. Use the right sleep equipment, pay attention to your daily habits and routines, and seek medical help for symptoms that are interfering with your rest.

    Sweet Dreams,

    Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM
    The Sleep Doctor™

    About the author

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *