Sore Neck from Sleeping – Causes, Remedies and How to Avoid

A sore neck upon waking can be a very unwelcome start to your day. This pain and stiffness can be a result of various factors, including incorrect sleeping positions, unsupportive pillows, pre-existing conditions, or even stress. 

To fix it, you’ll need to understand the root cause. So let’s explore the common causes of neck pain from sleeping and some practical solutions to reduce discomfort and prevent it from happening again. It’s always a good idea to visit a physiotherapist to ease those muscles! 

What Causes a Sore Neck from Sleeping? 

what causes a sore neck from sleeping
causes a sore neck from sleeping

Several factors can contribute to a sore neck from sleeping. This discomfort will likely disrupt your sleep quality and affect your daily activities. 

Incorrect Sleeping Position 

Sleeping in the wrong position is one of the primary causes of neck pain. When you sleep on your stomach, your neck is often turned to one side for extended periods. This unnatural position can strain the muscles and ligaments in your neck, leading to stiffness and soreness. 

Poor Pillow Support 

A pillow that’s too high can push your neck upwards, while a pillow that’s too low will let your head fall back too far. Both situations can cause muscle strain and discomfort. So, it’s important to find a pillow that keeps your neck aligned with your spine. 

Pre-Existing Neck Conditions 

Conditions like arthritis or herniated discs can make neck pain significantly worse. These conditions often cause chronic inflammation and discomfort, which can be aggravated by certain sleeping positions or inadequate support from pillows. 

Stress and Muscle Tension 

High levels of stress can lead to muscle tension in your neck muscles and shoulders. This tension can become more severe overnight, and bring on a sore neck when you wake up. Relaxation techniques before bed, such as deep breathing or gentle stretching, can help alleviate this tension. 

Home Remedies for a Sore Neck from Sleeping 

There’s no right or wrong on how to fix a sore neck from sleeping. There are multiple steps you can take to ease the ache and release tension in the muscles if you wake up with a stiff, sore neck. 

Apply Heat and Cold Packs 

Start with a cold pack to reduce inflammation for the first 24 to 48 hours. Apply the cold pack for 20 minutes, then remove it for 20 minutes. After 1 to 2 days, switch to a warm pack to relax and loosen the muscles, following the same 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off approach. This method helps manage pain and promotes blood flow to the affected area. 

Perform Gentle Neck Stretches 

Gentle stretching exercises like chin tucks and side-to-side rotations can help improve flexibility and relieve tension in the neck muscles. Perform chin tucks by slowly pulling your chin down and back, creating a double chin effect. Hold for a few seconds, then release. 

For side-to-side rotations, gently turn your head from one side to the other, aiming to touch your chin to each shoulder. Repeat these exercises several times a day to keep your neck muscles flexible and reduce stiffness. 

Use Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers 

Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce pain and swelling. Acetaminophen is another option to relieve neck pain if you can’t take NSAIDs. Always follow the dosage instructions on the package and consult with a qualified healthcare professional. This is particularly important if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns about medication interactions. 

Consider Alternative Treatments 

Exploring alternative treatments can also be beneficial in managing and reducing neck pain. A professional massage can help relax tight muscles and improve blood flow, which will promote healing and pain relief. Chiropractic care involves adjustments and manipulations of the spine and neck to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Both treatments should be done by licensed practitioners to ensure safety and effectiveness. 

How to Stop Getting a Sore Neck from Sleeping 

how to stop getting a sore neck from sleeping
how to avoid getting a sore neck from sleeping

Choose the Right Pillow 

The right type of pillow can make a big difference in preventing neck pain. Here’s what to consider when selecting a pillow: 

  • Support: Make sure your pillow supports the natural curve of your neck. 
  • Height: Choose a pillow that helps keep your neck aligned with your spine. It shouldn’t be too high or too low. 
  • Material: Memory foam or cervical pillows are often recommended for their supportive properties.
  • Sleep Position: Side sleepers might need a firmer pillow, while back sleepers could benefit from a medium-firm option. Stomach sleepers should opt for a softer, thinner pillow to avoid stress on your neck. 

Adopt a Proper Sleeping Position 

We know you change your sleeping position unconsciously while you’re sleeping. But try to fall asleep in your preferred sleeping position to support your head and neck. Here’s how to position yourself correctly for a pain-free night of sleep: 

  • Back Sleeping: Sleeping on your back is generally the best for neck alignment. Use a pillow that supports the natural curve of the back of the neck. 
  • Side Sleeping: If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight and support your neck by using a pillow that fills the gap between your neck and the mattress. 
  • Avoid Stomach Sleeping: Not only can this position strain your neck due to excessive twisting and bending, but it can also cause back pain.  

Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule 

Consistency in your sleep habits helps prevent neck pain. Here’s why it matters:

  • Regular Sleep Patterns: Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily helps maintain overall health, reducing stress and muscle tension, including in the neck area. Investing in good sleep will reap numerous benefits, both physically and psychologically. 
  • Adequate Sleep: Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to allow your body to repair and rejuvenate. This reduces the risk of waking up with neck pain. 

Consider a Mattress That Supports Spinal Alignment 

Your mattress is another important factor in preventing neck pain at night or in the morning. Here’s what to look for:

  • Firmness Level: A medium-firm mattress often provides the best support for spinal alignment, preventing pressure points that can cause neck pain. 
  • Material: Memory foam or hybrid mattresses can offer good support and comfort, adapting to your body’s contours. 
  • Durability: Invest in a high-quality mattress that maintains its supportive properties over time to ensure long-term neck health. 

When to See a Doctor for Your Neck Pain 

Waking up with neck pain is relatively common, and everyone experiences it every now and then! While you can treat it yourself or wait for minor neck pain to resolve itself, there are some cases in which you need to consult a medical professional. 

Here are the signs you need to reach out to a doctor about your neck pain: 

  • The pain lasts for more than 5 days, even after at-home treatment 
  • The pain is so intense that you cannot turn your head 
  • Sleeping with neck pain is difficult because of how intense the pain is
  • The pain is accompanied by weakness in your hands and feet 
  • You’ve had a recent injury to your head or neck 
  • You’re suddenly losing control of your bladder or bowels 
  • The pain comes with a headache, fever, confusion, or trouble talking or walking

Sore Neck From Sleeping FAQs

Your neck is most likely sore because of tight muscles. When you sleep in an unusual position or your neck muscles aren’t supported properly, your muscles tighten up instead of relaxing while you’re asleep.

Blood flow to your neck also isn’t great while you’re asleep, which means your neck muscles aren’t getting much oxygen during the night. It’s easy for them to stiffen up and when you wake and move them in the morning, it results in pain because the muscles are so tight.

Yes, a sore neck from sleeping usually goes away on its own. Most cases of neck pain caused by poor sleeping positions or inadequate support from pillows tend to resolve within a few days. 

You can speed up the recovery by resting the muscles, applying heat or cold packs, stretching gently, and using OTC pain relief. However, if the pain persists for more than a week or worsens, consider visiting a doctor.

Both sleeping on your back and sleeping on your side will protect your neck during the night if you’re using a decent pillow. The position that’s best for you will be the one that’s more comfortable for you. However, avoid sleeping on your stomach as it can cause neck strain.

Yes, physical therapy can be beneficial for chronic neck pain and relieving painful muscles in the neck after sleeping. A therapist can teach you exercises and stretches to strengthen your neck muscles, improve posture, and reduce pain.

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