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How to Relieve Neck Pain from Sleeping

Fell asleep in an awkward position and woke up with neck pain? We’ve got some tips to help you find effective relief. 

Waking up with a stiff neck can be extremely uncomfortable, especially in the mornings when you have a whole day of activities ahead. To help you find some relief from neck pain, we’ve consulted our physiotherapists for an explanation of the potential causes of neck pain, how to avoid it with better-sleeping positions, and tips to reduce the intensity of the pain. 

Table of Contents

  • What causes neck pain from sleeping?

  • Symptoms of neck pain after sleeping

  • What is the best sleeping position to avoid neck pain?

  • Tips for relieving neck pain from sleeping

What Causes Neck Pain from Sleeping?

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While it’s generally true that neck pain can arise over time as a result of age, an injury, or poor posture, it’s also possible for neck pain to develop from a night of sleeping in a poor position. When the neck is placed at an awkward angle, such as over a high pillow that arches the neck, the muscles, ligaments, and joints are placed under stress. 

Normally, our bodies are flexible enough to handle this range of motion, but when such awkward positions are held for an extended period of time when sleeping, it can cause the neck to become strained, resulting in neck pain in the morning.

Rolling over or sudden movements during sleep can also result in neck positions that cause strain or sprain. This is more common when sleeping on moving vehicles or transportation such as a train or during an airline flight. 

Symptoms of Neck Pain After Sleeping

Most common symptoms of neck pain after sleeping include: 

  • Stiffness in the neck

  • Soreness or tenderness

  • Difficulty moving the neck at certain angles

  • Headaches originating from the neck

  • Pain that radiates to the shoulders or arms

  • Numbness or tingling in the arms

  • Muscle spasms in the neck or upper back

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Neck pain caused by muscle tension or strain usually fades away within a few days. However, there are some cases where neck pain can continue longer, lasting up to several weeks. In such cases, it may be advisable to see a qualified physiotherapist or your GP to determine if the source of the neck pain is related to a more serious medical condition.

What is The Best Sleeping Position to Avoid Neck Pain?

Sleeping in the right positions can help to prevent napping from developing. There are two sleeping positions that relieve stress on the neck: on your back or on your side. 

Sleeping on your back is the most natural of the two as you can simply use a pillow to support the natural curve of your neck. Feather pillows or memory foam pillows can easily conform to the shape of your neck and help to provide sufficient support. 

When sleeping on your side, it’s important to use a higher-than-normal pillow to make up the increased distance between your head and the bed. 

Tips for Relieving Neck Pain From Sleeping

Apply a Cold or Warm Surface

Grab a bag of ice, or a hot water bottle and press it gently to the surface of your neck where the pain is most intense. Hold it there for about 10-20 minutes to allow the muscles to relax and loosen. Whether you apply hot or cold therapy, you should experience a better range of motion and less discomfort after application. 

Infographic 3

Neck Stretches

Targeted neck exercises can help to improve your neck’s flexibility and relieve muscle tension. Here are some exercises you can try whether at home or in the office:

Backwards Neck Extension — Slowly bend your neck backwards, bringing your face toward the ceiling or sky. Once you’ve bent as far back as you can without feeling too much pain, try to hold the position for about 4-5 seconds before bending your neck forward to a neutral position (facing forward). 

Side-to-side Neck Stretches — Keeping your back straight and shoulders still, gradually turn your head to the left and right. You should feel an increase in tension in your neck while doing this. Try to turn as much as you can without increasing the pain in your neck, then hold the position for 4-5 seconds before switching to the other side. 

Lateral Neck Flexes — Remaining in an upright standing or sitting position gently tilt your head to the left and right, bringing your ear as close as possible to your shoulder. once you've stretched as far as you can hold the position for 4-5 seconds before switching to the other side.

Visit a Physiotherapist 

As mentioned before, neck pain from sleeping is meant to recover on its own without much trouble within a couple of days. If you experience neck pain from sleep that lasts for longer than a week, it’s a good idea to get it checked by a professional physiotherapist. 

A physiotherapist specialising in neck pain (like those in our team at Infinite Health) can help to provide targeted massages and treatment to relieve the built-up tension in your neck and shoulders for instant relief. 


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