Neck pain is a common pain condition that develops often in adults, especially women. More specifically, reports show that 15% and 25% of men and women, respectively, ranging in age from 21 to 55 years experience both neck and shoulder pain during their lifetime. This condition often becomes the cause of chronic pain and discomfort. Neck pain from sleeping may seem like a small issue, but there is evidence that a large number of individuals who experience pain in the neck may continue to suffer from it up to six months after the pain has begun. Whether you are waking up with neck pain or pain in the neck prevents you from falling asleep in the first place, here are nine ways to prevent and fix neck pain from sleeping.
Why am I waking up with neck pain every morning?
The neck is made up of seven delicate cervical vertebrae surrounded by ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Inside of these vertebrae, the spinal cord, with its bundles of nerves connecting the brain to various parts of the body, is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid. Each vertebra is connected to the other with bony protrusions called facet joints. All of these parts of the neck—bones, muscles, connective tissues—work in conjunction with the shoulders and upper back.
Because of the interrelatedness of these areas of the body, neck pain can be caused by issues that arise in the shoulders and upper back. The most common neck pain causes include:
- Muscle stress or strain: Muscle stress or strain is one of the most common causes of neck pain. This can occur from improper posture (e.g., text neck) or it may be a result of injury during daily activity.
- Degeneration of the cervical spine: Over time and with regular use, the cervical spine may suffer from naturally occurring degeneration. This occurs mainly in older adults and may happen in conjunction with some forms of arthritis (i.e., osteoarthritis) or osteoporosis.
- Facet joint damage: The facet joints that connect the vertebrae are susceptible to damage due to injury or degeneration. This can cause significant and intractable neck pain.
- Cervical spinal stenosis: Stenosis occurs when the spine becomes compressed and narrows the spaces between the spinal bones and the tissue that surrounds them. This places pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, causing pain that is often severe.
- Bulging or herniated disc: This common cause of neck pain can occur due to injury or simply over time with improper use. Poor posture can result in stress that causes discs to bulge and, eventually, to herniate.
- Whiplash: Whiplash refers to a quick jolt that causes the neck and head to jerk back and forth. Rollercoaster rides and car accidents are highly associated with the occurrence of whiplash. Whiplash can lead to persistent, chronic pain in both the neck and lower back.
These common causes of neck pain may make it challenging to fall asleep. They can also cause you to suffer from severe neck pain after sleeping. Below we will tackle the most common treatment and preventative strategies for both situations.
How to sleep with neck pain
People who suffer from neck pain even before they fall asleep may struggle to fall asleep. Their anxiety about their neck pain, when combined with the pain itself, may make a good night’s sleep just a dream. Here are some ways to sleep with neck pain.
Before going to sleep
Before going to sleep, set yourself up for restful slumber. While practicing good sleep hygiene may not solve the problem of neck pain, it can help ease your mind as you drift off.
Save the bedroom for intimacy and sleep only, and turn off electronics (your phone included) at least an hour before bed. Keep the lights low and the room cold. Some people find a weighted blanket helps them to relax and eases anxiety.
If you find that your neck pain is caused by muscle strain or soreness that increases right before bed, a simple neck massage (either self-massage or with a partner) can help relax tense muscles, too.
Best sleeping position for neck pain
There are three types of sleepers: back sleepers, side sleepers, and stomach sleepers. People suffering from disc issues or cervical degeneration know that pressure on the neck from sleeping in the wrong direction can increase their pain and decrease the chances of a good night’s sleep.
Back sleeping tends to be the healthiest for reducing neck pain for all patients. However, side sleepers can often get a good night of sleep with a few modifications.
A poor night’s sleep can disrupt muscle relaxation and the process of healing that the body undergoes every night. If you find that your sleeping position makes it harder to fall asleep, take steps to make a change. In the extreme, stomach sleepers (often the most painful position) might actually place tennis balls in their pajama pockets to wake them when they roll over.
For all sleeping positions the most crucial part of getting a good night sleep is right behind you: your pillow.
Find a good pillow for neck pain
A good pillow for neck pain is crucial. You may find that a simple pillow change allows you to fall asleep faster and in comfort.
When looking for a pillow for neck pain, look for pillows that fill in any gaps between your head, neck, and back. You want your pillow to provide gentle support so you do not feel like you have to hold your head up to protect your neck. The pillow should hold your neck in a neutral position that supports the way you like to sleep. Durable pillows that don’t sag or lose their loft are best.
You can look for different pillow fillings ranging from:
- Down or down alternatives
- Memory foam
- Water-based materials
There are pros and cons to all of these. Take the time to research the best pillows for neck pain in our earlier post before heading out to replace your old pillow.
Practice yoga for neck pain
We could place this recommendation for either people who cannot fall asleep due to neck pain or those whose neck hurts after sleeping.
Yoga for neck pain focuses on gentle stretches and strengthening to help release tension and build muscle to prevent further injury or pain. Focusing on deep, even breathing as you practice also signals the brain to slow down and can help ease you into restful sleep.
How to get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong
“Sleep injuries” may sound funny to everyone except those who suffer from them. If you find yourself waking with neck pain on a regular basis, there are ways to address that. Each of these suggestions need not be elaborate or take up a large chunk of your morning routine.
For people who suffer from muscle or ligament injuries that become stiff and painful with inactivity, the following tips can help ease your neck pain.
Add in morning neck pain stretches
Imagine a piece of chewing gum. Before you place it in your mouth and chew, it is stiff and, if cold, can even crack. The painful parts of your neck, especially muscles and connective tissues, are similar. A full night of sleep means that these muscles have been immobile, stiffening up and causing neck pain from sleeping. If you sleep the wrong way (or on the wrong pillow) this can also cause severe neck pain after sleeping.
Gentle neck pain stretches can help soften stiff muscles and stretch them gently. The following three morning neck pain stretches are a great place to start and can be done sitting on the edge of your bed.
1. Side neck stretch
Sit on the edge of the bed with your feet flat on the floor and hands resting in your lap. Gently let the head fall down to the right shoulder. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds before completing the same stretch on the other side. Repeat the stretch two to three times on each side.
Keep the shoulders down and relaxed. If you’d like a little extra stretch, place a hand gently on top of your head, letting the weight push the head down a little further. If this causes pain, come out of the stretch.
2. Rotation neck stretch
Slowly turning the head to the right, keeping the chin level. Turn the head as far as possible while looking over the right shoulder.
Hold at the maximum stretch for about ten seconds. Return to neutral and repeat on the other side.
3. Isometric neck exercises
Neck pain exercises with resistance helps build strength faster than without, but you don’t need any special equipment. Press the palm of your right hand against the right side of the head, directly above the ear. Gently push the head and the hand into each other while keeping the neck in a neutral position for about six seconds. Rest for ten seconds and repeat on the same side. Then, complete two repetitions on the left side.
After exercising the sides of the neck, place your hand on your forehead, and push head into hand for six seconds. Repeat two times. Finally, place the hand on the back of the head, pressing together for six seconds. Rest and repeat.
This is a great place to start, but there are even more neck pain exercises. Incorporate them into your daily morning routine to relieve neck pain from sleeping.
Use heat therapy
Sometimes cold muscles benefit from directly applied heat therapy. A heating pad can provide warmth in the morning.
Another option is to use a rice-filled eye pillow (or specialized pillow for neck pain), heated briefly in the microwave. Be careful and follow the pillow’s direction for this use!
Practice deep breathing and mindfulness meditation
While taking a few deep breaths and focusing on what is happening in the moment may not immediately relieve neck pain, it can, over time, reduce your perception of it.
What to do if you’re suffering from severe neck pain after sleeping
If you are suffering from severe neck pain when sleeping or chronic, intractable neck pain, a proper diagnosis is key. Once you have figured out the cause of your pain, taking the steps above can help, but you may need more treatment to get a good night’s sleep.
If you are not getting enough sleep due to neck pain or your neck pain after sleeping is increasing, you have options. Talk to your doctor about:
- Neck braces
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Injections, including Botox injections
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
If your neck pain after sleeping is not responding to your best efforts to prevent it, it’s time to talk to a pain doctor. They can help diagnose the underlying cause your pain and design an individualized treatment plan to help you get a good night’s rest!
You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.