Is our neck pain causing us to toss and turn at night because we’re trying to find a comfortable sleeping position? Are we waking up in the morning with worse neck pain than when we went to bed? Let’s take a look at how to deal with neck pain and sleeping.
Many of us don’t consider how our sleeping position can affect our necks and backs. Everyone has his or her own preferred position to get the best night’s sleep, but does our sleeping position really contribute to a good night’s sleep?
If we can prevent neck pain from starting, or even eliminate it altogether by the way we sleep, then let’s take a look at what adjustments we can make in our sleeping positions, and how we can add pillow support for our bodies to prevent neck pain.
The first place to start is to look at how we sleep and what affect this may have on our pain. Experts say there is no one right way to sleep, but in some cases, sleeping in the same position night after night can in itself create neck pain.
What Is Neck Pain?
Neck pain symptoms are often a result of nerves becoming pinched in the neck. Depending on the condition, sometimes neck pain is accompanied by symptoms such as upper back pain or lower back pain.
Other symptoms of neck pain can include:
- dull aching
- sharp-shooting pain
- range-of-motion difficulties with pain
- difficulty swallowing, pulsations
- swishing sounds in the head
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- gland swelling
Sleep disturbances, such as neck pain, can disrupt the muscle relaxation and healing that takes place during sleep. See my article, “Heal While You Sleep – Adults”, to see how miraculously our bodies heal during our sleep.
Maximum Neck Support For All Sleeping Positions
In one of my previous articles, “Lower Back Pain and Sleeping – To The Rescue“, I discussed these six sleeping positions in detail with easy-to-understand pictures. These positions also provide great support for the neck.
Take a look at the details of these six sleeping positions, as we learn how to accommodate each position with extra pillow support.
- Sleeping on our backs with knee support
- Sleeping on our sides with a pillow between our knees
- Sleeping in a fetal position
- Sleeping on our stomachs with a pillow under our stomachs
- Sleeping on our stomachs with our face down
- Sleeping on our backs in a reclined position
Right Pillow Height For Neck Pain
For the best comfort and support, match the pillow height with our sleeping positions. Use a pillow that supports the curve of our neck to help ease the stress.
Follow these guidelines for choosing the right pillow support for our necks:
1. Back Sleepers with neck pain. Ideally, sleeping on our back is the best position to sleep. It benefits our neck and spine because the back lays straight and isn’t twisted.
It also helps our mattress do its job of supporting our neck and spine while sleeping. When we’re laying down, the curve of our necks should look similar to when we’re standing with good posture, standing tall with our head up and shoulders back.
When lying on the back, a pillow should support the natural curvature of the cervical spine,
with adequate support under the head, neck, and shoulders. Pillow height should be lower than for side sleepers.
Some of the shortcomings to sleeping on our back is that snoring is more frequent because gravity forces the base of the tongue to collapse into the airway and obstructs breathing.
2. Side Sleepers with neck pain. Sleeping on our sides is the most common sleeping position, with 57% of people at least starting their night in this position.
Side sleepers typically need a thicker pillow than back sleepers to ensure that the neck and head are positioned in the middle of the shoulders for best body alignment and neck support.
As a side sleeper myself, I personally recommend a certain pillow called a gusset pillow, that has an approximate height of 4 inches. This type of pillow can ease the neck pain, and may prevent further neck pain during sleep.
In my pillow review article, “What’s The Best Pillow for Side Sleepers? – Special Gusset Design Review”, I recommend this particular gusset pillow for many reasons.
Most importantly, it is a pillow that has a 1.5 inch gusset “panel”, which means it has an extra piece of fabric sewn between the top and bottom layer of the pillow all the way around the four sides, as you can see in the picture.
The gusset pillow is great for neck pain as it gives extra neck support because it fills the gap between the shoulder and the head while fully supporting the neck.
Notice that the gusset panel gives height around the edges, especially where our neck would be positioned. The gusset keeps the pillow at a more uniform height after sleeping on it, and thickens the pillow, allowing more stuffing without bulging.
A major positive for pregnant women is that sleeping on their left side helps blood circulation, while relieving pressure from the lower back. Lying on the left side can also help ease heartburn and acid reflux.
3. Stomach Sleepers with neck pain. Sleeping on our stomach is the least common sleeping position, with only 11% of adults beginning their nights on their stomachs with their necks twisted to one side.
The main benefit of this style is to ease snoring, but that’s about it. It’s definitely not a good position for neck pain.
When our necks are twisted to one side, this can increase or even cause neck pain. To accomplish sleeping on their stomachs, some people sleep face down, as opposed to twisting their necks to the side, while supporting their head with a special pillow that allows better breathing and not having to twist the neck.
Stomach sleepers may benefit from an ultra-slim pillow or forego using a pillow altogether.
Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain, Pinched Nerves & Arm Pain – Video
As we discussed earlier, sleeping on our sides and on our backs are the best positions for easing or preventing neck pain.
Let’s take a look at the video link below demonstrating practical ways to set up our sleep positions for maximum neck support. The two professional physical therapists, whom you might have seen before, are amazing to learn from, and at the same time, can be humorously enjoyable. Enjoy!
Recap of video high points with timestamps (example: 00:42 means 42 seconds, 01:33, means 1 minute 33 seconds):
- 00:42 Neutral spine alignment of neck, shoulder and spine
- 01:33 Versatile pillow arrangement options
- 02:04 Proper neck support suggesting a 4-inch high pillow
- 02:52 Pillow for back and side sleeping
- 03:17 Neck support with cervical roll pillow
- 03:58 Severe neck pain to limit range of motion
- 05:34 Tips to prevent sleeping on stomach, which is bad for neck pain
- 06:27 Pillow support for shoulder and arm pain
- 07:48 How to stay off the point of our shoulder for side sleeping
- 08:51 Support placed below shoulder blades for back sleeping
- 09:57 Why to not sleep with arms raised over our head for back sleeping
Mattress for Neck and Back Pain
Why do we have neck pain? It’s often a combination of things from sitting most of the day, to bad posture, or to weak muscles. A good mattress can make a tremendous difference in our neck and back comfort and support, and in how well we sleep.
A mattress should be well made, fully supportive, and comfortable. Firm mattresses are often recommended, but medium-firm may be better for people with long-term neck and back pain.
Super cushy mattresses may feel great at first, but they are not the best support for long term. Sinking too deep can cause joints to twist and our spines to not be in alignment.
To keep the body property aligned, body shape, size, and proportions can help determine how much support is needed. Wide hips may be better suited to a softer mattress and slim hips to a firmer one.
Ideally, mattresses should be replaced every 10 years.
Consider these options for alleviating neck and back pain:
- Think about adding a memory foam mattress topper to provide additional support to the mattress if the existing mattress is starting to sag. Remember to go more on the medium-firm side rather than soft and fluffy to get that extra back support that we need.
- Experiment with how a firmer mattress can feel for our necks and backs by placing plywood underneath our mattresses for a few days. If we like that firmer feel, it may be time to invest in a new mattress.
- Over the years, our mattresses can lose some of their support, and they may be sagging in the places where we need the best support for our necks and backs. If it’s been a while since we’ve purchased our beds, we might consider upgrading our mattresses.
Something we all can do that would help us sleep better, whether we have neck pain or back pain, or we just want to get a good night’s sleep, is to prepare our minds and bodies ahead of time for that good sleep at least 30 to 60 minutes prior to sleeping.
I’ve put together 11 tips for preparing our minds and our bodies for great sleep. Refer to my article, “Natural Cures For Insomnia – For Adults”, for more in-depth detail of the 11 sleep preparation tips.
Here is a summary of the 11 bedtime tips I recommend in my article:
- Stick to a scheduled time for going to bed and for waking up
- Make it a nightly habit to start our sleep preparation routine 30-60 minutes before bedtime
- Take a nap if we need to between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
- Avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime
- Make our bedroom a relaxing environment
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress with comfortable pillows
- Avoid bright lights at bedtime
- Avoid stimulants like alcohol and a heavy meal before bedtime
- Wind-down with a calming activity like reading or taking a relaxing hot bath
- Go into another room, if you can’t sleep, and relax until you feel tired
- Record our sleep habits to assess areas of improvement
Favorite Starting Sleep Position
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 as when we fell asleep.
Generally, the first time period of our sleep is the longest sleep cycle, as noted in my article, “Sleep Patterns For Adults – What’s Normal?”, so why not start out in our favorite position to increase our overall quality of sleep for the night.
For me, it’s worth falling asleep in my most favorite sleeping position, on my left side, with my pillows already positioned and ready for a comfy night’s sleep.
When we don’t sleep well because of neck pain, this can disrupt the body’s natural healing process that occurs during a good quality sleep.
We learned many great tips for the best neck support such as:
- Ways to position our pillows
- The best neck support pillow, gusset pillow
- The best pillow heights
- Benefits of a good mattress and some mattress options
- A video demonstration of setting up our sleep positions
- How to prepare our minds and bodies before bedtime
- How to start out in our favorite sleeping position
What I’ve learned from doing research for writing this post: It’s great to know that we can have hope in getting a good night’s sleep just by adjusting our sleep positions and pillows, and making sure our mattresses are the quality we need. It doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive to make some adjustments that can make a tremendous difference in our sleep health.
Thank you for stopping by. I invite you back to learn more, as we discover many helpful ways to increase our quality of life through good sleep practices. The more we can learn together, the more helpful we can be to ourselves, to each other, and to our families in the sleep choices we make.
Lastly, I would love to hear your comments and suggestions on how you deal with neck pain and sleeping. Please leave your comments or suggestions below. In the meantime, may you have a Happy Deep Sleep. Until we meet again, bye for now.