How to Sleep with a Stiff Neck and Shoulder Pain
Do you have trouble sleeping due to neck pain? Or, do you wake up and can’t turn your head? The good news is there are usually only a handful of reasons for the discomfort and stiffness, and they are all manageable or treatable.
Waking up with a stiff neck can ruin your entire day. It may work itself out, but usually not straight away. And it can get worse again overnight when you go to bed. It’s a vicious cycle that can wreak havoc on how you feel.
Stiffness in the neck and shoulder area are common for some people when they’re sleeping. It can make for restless nights and poor sleeping habits. Thankfully, there are things you can do to not only help your neck but prevent the pain from getting so bad in the first place.
First, it’s important to recognize why you might be experiencing a stiff neck and shoulders. This guide will cover the most common causes. Then, we’ll give you some tips that will help to make the situation better. The solutions may be easier than you think!
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why Do I Have Neck Pain at Night?
- 2 What is the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?
- 3 What is the Best Pillow Material?
- 4 Can My Mattress Affect My Sleep?
- 5 How Your Phone Can Cause Neck Pain
- 6 Can a Stiff Neck & Shoulders be Prevented?
- 7 What’s Good for a Sore Neck & Shoulders?
- 8 Why is My Pain Worse When Sleeping?
Why Do I Have Neck Pain at Night?
There are two main causes:
- Sleeping in the wrong positions. If your neck is somehow twisted or bent in a certain way for too long, it can create pain and stiffness. If you experience more neck pain when sleeping on your back (or front), your neck could be bent too far a certain way. This misalignment can lead to a lot of discomfort and stiffness.
- A pillow that isn’t supporting your neck and shoulders the right way. This can lead to having your neck in a strained position for too long. The lack of support can also make it hard to sleep. Sometimes, the discomfort and stiffness can go into your shoulders or back. When that happens, it can be difficult to move the next day.
No matter what position you sleep in, there are different things you can do to ease the stress on your neck when you’re sleeping.
What is the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?
If you’re waking up each day with a stiff neck, the first thing you should do is take a look at your pillow. Not all pillows are created equally.
You may have a preference when it comes to the type of pillow you prefer, whether it’s something stiff and heavy or soft and conforming. But, what you think you may like isn’t always the best for the health of your neck and shoulders. The pillow that’s best for your neck greatly depends on the position you sleep in.
You should look for specific pillow characteristics based on how you sleep:
- Back sleeper: If you relax on your back, you’ll enjoy a pillow that is thinner. Your neck should be aligned just as it would be if you were standing up straight and tall. Ideally, you won’t have a large curve in your neck when laying down.
- Side sleeper: Side sleepers usually need thicker pillows. This is so your neck, and the head stays positioned right in the middle of your shoulders, and not off to one side.
- Stomach sleeper: If you suffer from neck pain, sleeping on your stomach isn’t advised. It places a lot of unnecessary stress on your neck and shoulder muscles. But, if it’s the only way you can fall asleep, a thin pillow should be used. It may even be better to not use a pillow at all if you sleep in this position.
No matter what position you sleep in, one of the best pillows for neck pain is the Shredded Memory Foam Pillow by Coop Home Goods. It gets high marks from almost everyone who uses it, thanks to the support it provides. It won’t flatten if you move throughout the night, and will keep your neck in line with your back. Plus, it’s made from quality materials and allows the pillow to form to your specific needs. Shredded memory foam is better than traditional memory foam because there isn’t just a solid foam pad to deal with. It can conform to your neck to create a better fit.
What is the Best Pillow Material?
Nowadays, pillows are made from a variety of different materials. These materials will determine how quickly a pillow becomes deflated. This also applies if it feels too fluffy, too flat, or musty.
Some of the best pillows are made from the following materials:
- Natural latex
- Memory foam
- Organic cotton
- Organic wool
Again, the best materials for your pillow much depend on the position you sleep in. While they all have their own benefits, you’ll get the most out of specific materials based on how you sleep and what you’re looking for in a good night’s rest.
When you’re shopping for a pillow with different materials, consider the following:
- Natural latex pillows are best for side sleepers. They are firmer and will slightly contour to your head, leaving your neck and spine in alignment.
- Buckwheat pillows are best for people who ‘flop’ around. While we don’t recommend you sleep on your stomach, a buckwheat pillow is the best option if you do. The hulls within the pillow will move with you and mold to your head. You can also add or remove these hulls on most buckwheat pillows for your idea shape and thickness.
- Memory foam works well for either side or back sleepers. They usually offer a contoured shape and little resistance.
- Organic wool pillows are perfect for side sleepers. They provide more neck support and encourage spinal alignment by elevating your neck just a bit.
- Organic cotton pillows work for people who sleep on their stomachs. Again, this position isn’t recommended. But cotton pillows can flatten out quite a bit, which is the best option for stomach sleepers. The pillow will continue to get thinner over time, so even if you do sleep on your stomach your neck won’t be lifted and out of sync with your spine.
Can My Mattress Affect My Sleep?
If you’ve been talking to people about your stuff neck from sleeping, you’ve probably heard plenty of advice about getting a different mattress. Most people automatically associate a faulty mattress with neck pain. There is some truth to that, but not as much as many people think. The safety and comfort of your neck, while you sleep, has much more to do with your pillow than your mattress.
But, if you’ve switched out your pillow to fit your needs and sleeping position and you’re still uncomfortable, you can look into changing your mattress. It’s important to make sure you have a mattress that is firm enough.
If your mattress is over ten years old, it’s a good rule of thumb to get a new one. Mattresses can flatten out a bit over time, and become misshapen. If you don’t have the budget for a new mattress, try flipping your current one over, if possible. Some mattresses can’t be flipped. If yours does, you should do it periodically, so it doesn’t lose its shape on one side.
How Your Phone Can Cause Neck Pain
There are a few other factors that can contribute to neck pain at night. One of them that you may not think about often is your phone. Most people check their phone for a few minutes each night before bed. You may even wake up in the middle of the night and start browsing.
It may seem harmless to check your emails or browse through social media as you lay in bed, but it could be doing severe damage to your neck. Looking down at your phone when you’re in a laying position can add up to 60 pounds of force on your neck muscles.
This creates a strain on the tendons and ligaments in the neck and shoulders. Even just a few minutes of looking down at your phone can lead to discomfort. Because this is becoming such a common problem, it even has its name; text neck.
Along with causing neck pain, studies have shown that the blue light from your phone can inhibit sleep, so you’re not getting the rest you need. If you must use or check your phone while you’re in bed, try to hold it at eye level, and limit your usage as much as possible.
This same advice goes for computers during the day. Make sure to check your posture if you’re sitting at a desk all day. If you’re looking downward at your computer, you could be causing the same strain on your neck during the day as your phone causes at night.
To help avoid this, raise the level of your computer to meet directly with your eyes. It’s also important to take frequent breaks and get up to walk around for a few minutes. Stretch your neck whenever you take one of these breaks to keep your muscles from getting weaker throughout the day.
Can a Stiff Neck & Shoulders be Prevented?
If you regularly experience a sore neck and shoulders when you sleep, the best way to prevent it is to sleep in a different position or find a pillow that works to align your spine. Keep in mind, though, that your habits throughout the day can prime your neck to feel stiff before you even climb into bed.
If you work a job that causes you to sit all day, you could be developing poor posture habits. You probably slouch more than you realize. This can tighten up your neck muscles and contribute to the stiffness that will be amplified by the wrong pillow. It can even make it hard to fall asleep.
One thing you can do before bed to help prevent neck pain right away and get to sleep is to stretch. Stretching your neck helps to loosen the muscle fibers. The right kind of stretching can also help with tension in the muscle that connects your neck and shoulders. Even just tilting your neck slowly from side to side can help, or you can develop a stretching routine.
Try this safe stretching technique before you get into bed each night to help loosen your neck muscles and reduce your risk of experiencing pain:
- Stand perpendicular to a wall, about twelve inches away to give yourself enough room.
- Raise your arm over your head slowly. After a few seconds, angle it slightly. You want both your palm and your elbow to be flat against the wall.
- Turn your head from the wall and carefully tilt your chin down. You should feel a slight pull on your neck. For a deeper stretch, you can place a hand on the back of your head and gently push down.
- Hold this stretch anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute.
If you feel extreme pain when stretching, or if your neck pain becomes so severe that you can’t sleep at all, you may need to contact a doctor for a treatment plan.
What’s Good for a Sore Neck & Shoulders?
Using the right pillow, changing your sleep position, and stretching are the best ways to get rid of a stiff neck from sleeping. But, there are simple home remedies you can put into place at any time. These remedies can help to get rid of pain for awhile. Even momentary relief can give you what you need to get some sleep and be more comfortable in bed.
Let’s look at some of these useful tips to help reduce your neck and shoulder stiffness:
- Apply ice or heat: By alternating these extremes, you can soothe your neck muscles. When you start to feel pain, use ice or a cold compress on your neck for up to 72 hours. Follow it up by using a warm compress or a heating pad. You can even apply heat through a hot shower. This pattern will help to loosen up your neck muscles and relax them.
- Take pain relievers: If the pain is becoming too much to handle, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever before bed. Ibuprofen is a common solution because it works quickly and can usually get rid of the pain for several hours.
- Keep moving: A sedentary lifestyle doesn’t help to improve our neck muscles, which can make them feel even worse when we lay down. If you stare at a computer all day or don’t get much exercise, make a point to move more. Also, doing simple stretches throughout the day can help to make your muscles stronger.
- Get a massage: You don’t have to go to a professional to get a useful massage. Even reaching back to rub your shoulders or having your partner rub your neck can help. A few minutes of a gentle massage can loosen up your muscles enough for you to get some relief.
- Reduce intense physical activity: Light exercising and stretching can help to treat a stiff neck. But, you should avoid substantial physical activity for a while, until the pain is gone. From contact sports to running or weightlifting, you should give yourself two or three weeks of avoiding these exercises to give your neck a chance to heal fully.
- Reduce your stress levels: Stress may not weaken your neck muscles. But, it can cause the pain and inflammation to feel more severe. If you’ve ever noticed that your muscles feel tighter when you’re stressed, it’s important to try to lower your anxiety as much as possible. Find what works for you to do this. It may be something as simple as taking a walk around the block or doing some deep breathing exercises.
- Try to get enough sleep: This might seem impossible if you’re already dealing with neck pain. But, sleeping only a few hours each night will continue the stress and strain within your body and cause your muscles to stiffen up. Aim for at least seven or eight hours of sleep each night, using the correct pillow for your sleeping style.
Why is My Pain Worse When Sleeping?
The reason your neck pain might feel worse when you’re sleeping is probably due to many factors. It starts with your habits during the day. If you’re not moving around enough and you’re staring at a computer all day, you’re already going to bed after putting a strain on your muscles all day. When you get into bed and have the wrong pillow or sleeping position, that strain becomes even worse.
Getting rid of your neck pain when you’re sleeping may take a few lifestyle changes, as well as a change in your pillow. Between technology and different varieties of pillows, it’s no wonder more people are experiencing neck pain nowadays.
We hope this guide has given you a bit more insight into why your neck and shoulders feel so stiff when you wake up in the morning. Or, why you can’t get a good night’s sleep because of the pain. By using the right pillow and sleeping in the right position, you can help to get rid of neck stiffness quickly and start sleeping better right away.