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How to Prevent Neck Pain While Sleeping

May 31, 2017
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If only we could as the headline depicts, say good night to neck pain once and for all. As with so many things in life, when it comes to your neck and pain, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure. If only we had a cure, trust us, you'd already know.

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 to prevent further injury.

One place to start is to look at how you sleep and what effects this may have on your neck pain.

What is the Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain?

Two sleeping positions that are easiest on the neck are:

  • On your side
  • On your back

When sleeping on your back, consider 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.

If you enjoy side-sleeping, many cervical pillows are made with memory foam. You want to avoid using too high or stiff of a pillow — doing so keeps your neck flexed all night — resulting in that awful morning pain and stiffness. If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head.

Here are some additional tips for side- and back-sleepers:

A memory foam pillow is contoured for your (yes, your) neck pain by Smarter Rest — made of toxin-free German quality memory foam. It is created to maintain spinal alignment and prevent neck pain, stiffness or even snoring throughout the night. The manufactured fabric is not only soft but luxurious while allowing for better airflow — two birds with one stone. Manufacturers of memory-foam pillows claim they help foster proper spinal alignment and we are all about proper alignment.

If you are not into the memory foam feel, here's another option: Try using a feather pillow. This will easily conform to the shape of your neck. Feather pillows will collapse over time, however, you can fluff them up or simply replace them around once a year.

When you are riding on a plane, train, or car, or simply reclining yourself on a sofa chair to stream your favorite TV show, a horseshoe-shaped pillow can support your neck and prevent your head from dropping to one side — if you doze off. Hopefully, the show is entertaining enough that you don't fall asleep, but if it does, we hope a loud noise from the screen wakes you up so you can reposition yourself.

If the pillow you are using is too large behind the neck, it will force your head forward so just make sure you obtain one that is sized appropriately.

Stomach Sleepers Beware

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 Your Sleeping 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 include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Waking early in the mornings
  • 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.

Break that vicious cycle today. Consider the suggested tips on how to sleep in order to avoid further neck pain, and maybe, just maybe, you can finally say goodnight to neck pain and mean it. While you work to perfect your sleeping positions, share with us and your fellow Backers with how you did so in our discussion library. 

Last change: May 31, 2017
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