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Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain

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Up to date
Update: June 8, 2023
5 min read

Written by

Rahul Upadhyay
Content Writer
Women Facing Neck Pain Problem

We all look forward to a good night’s sleep to wake up fresh and rejuvenated the next day. But many wake up with a stiff and sore neck.

Digging into its cause, you find your sleeping position as one of the primary culprits for causing neck and back pain. Here, we discuss neck pain and a few of the best sleeping positions for neck pain. Read on! 

How Neck Stiffness Develops During Sleep

To understand how to avoid neck pain when sleeping, we must understand what causes neck and back pain in the first place. A few of them are: 

Awkward Angle

Sleeping in an awkward position of our neck and head can stress our ligaments, muscles, and joints beyond permissible limits and induce pain and stiffness.

Sudden Movement

Sometimes we roll or react to our dreams in sleep as a sudden and awkward movement, which causes a strain or sprain in our neck.

Poor Posture

Spending your whole day in a poor posture, like sitting incorrectly or sitting too long in one position in front of the computer, or carrying heavy loads without proper posture, you might experience neck and upper back muscle pain while sleeping.  

Psychological Stress

Psychological stress also induces tension in the neck area, which causes pain and stiffness.  

Pre-existing Injury

If you have a pre-existing injury like whiplash, it can lead to a stiff neck while sleeping.  

Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain

A proper neck posture while sleeping is quintessential to avoiding neck stiffness, soreness and subsequent pain. Your sleeping position primarily influences it. Let’s walk through each sleeping position and understand their connection to neck sleeping position and neck pain.  

Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is one of the best sleep postures for all those looking for how to sleep with neck pain. This sleeping posture is excellent for those suffering from neck pain as it aligns with the spine’s natural curves. When sleeping in this position, it is best to use a thin cervical or memory foam pillow that raises your head slightly and maintains the curve on your neck.

However, this position might not be too comfortable if you suffer from an acid issue because sleeping on your back may increase your risk of waking up with acid reflux symptoms.

Sleeping on Your Side 

Sleeping on your side is the most common sleeping position. Although this position can put the spine out of position, you can fix that by putting a firm pillow between your knees.

The support and the head alignment can be enhanced further with the use of suitable pillows. You can use a stack of not-too-thick pillows to avoid sinking the head into the mattress and triggering neck pain. Else, you can also roll up a hand towel and insert it along the longer side of the pillow. Its shape can be adjusted to fill the space between the face and shoulder and fit the neck’s natural curve.

Sleeping on your side also helps reduce problems like snoring and sleep apnea.

Avoid Sleeping on Your Stomach

If you just woke up with neck pain and can’t turn your head, investigate if you are sleeping on your stomach. This posture naturally triggers faulty spine alignment and puts undue pressure on the neck muscles as you sleep with your head on one side for hours.

Tips For Sleeping with Neck Pain

Now that we understand the causes and sleep position for neck pain, let’s walk through a few tips on how to sleep with a sore neck so that the discomfort is minimal. 

Replace Old Mattresses or Pillows

Generally, a firmer mattress helps ease neck and back pain. Hence, if your mattress is too old or uncomfortable, replacing it would help you get restorative sleep.  

The same goes for pillows. Moreover, you have specialized neck pillows available today that help relieve neck pain.  

Apply Heat & Cold

If you apply heat and cold alternately to the neck pain areas for about 15-20 minutes before bedtime, you will find some relief and will be able to sleep more comfortably.  

Using a heating pad on a low setting is best to protect the skin from damage while applying heat. You can use an ice pack wrapped in a towel to apply cold.  

Modify Posture

Your daytime posture is an essential element triggering neck pain at night. You should avoid hunching your shoulders and bending your neck too far forward to help keep your spine neutral and in proper alignment.

Exercise and Stretch

Gentle exercises and stretches go a long way in relieving neck pain and preventing its reoccurrence. Exercises like neck stretches, rotations and other varieties should preferably be done daily.  

If you are confused or experiencing discomfort, you can seek the help of a physiotherapist or a healthcare provider to guide you in the right direction.  

Reduce Stress

Stress and anxiety naturally build tension in the neck area, triggering pain and discomfort. Hence, if you execute relaxing exercises like yoga, meditation, etc., you will find your stress decreasing along with your neck pain.  

You can also seek expert help and other avenues to manage your anxiety and stress.  

Wear a Neck Brace

Another excellent way to relieve neck pain is to wear a neck brace (cervical collar). It prevents the neck from moving and prevents pain and other injuries.  

However, keep in mind to not wear the collar for more than 10 days after a whiplash-type injury because its long term use can lead to muscle deterioration.  

Remedies For a Stiff Neck After Waking Up

You now know how to sleep with a stiff neck. Despite it, you might wake up with a stiff and sore neck. In that scenario, try the following tips.  

Ice or Heat Therapy

Heat therapy helps loosen and relax muscles which helps reduce pain. While ice therapy helps limit the swelling after a neck strain.  

Over-The-Counter Pain Medication

Sometimes pain relievers provide much-needed relief. Low and moderate neck pain can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers.

But if the pain is too intense, you can seek a doctor’s help and take neck pain-relieving medications.

Gentle Stretching or Self-Massage

The next recommended step is gentle stretching or massage if the pain is moderate or some relief has been obtained. Both of them loosen the muscles and increase flexibility.  

Pain Assessment & Activity Modification

It is strongly recommended that you assess your neck pain and stiffness after trying a few neck pain remedies. Suppose you are still experiencing neck pain and stiffness and experiencing pain in moving the neck in one direction, then it’s best not to move the neck or do anything that increases pain. The neck must be allowed to heal completely.  

When To Talk To Your Doctor About Neck Pain

Neck pain can be triggered due to several reasons. If it is because of poor sleep posture or other mild reasons, it will get cured within a short time with limited treatment. But if the pain persists and you experience other symptoms apart from neck pain, it’s best to seek medical assistance.


Occasional waking up with a stiff and sore neck is commonplace. All the remedies mentioned above would help you overcome them easily. But if the pain persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, you should seek medical assistance immediately. With the proper treatment, you will get cured within a few weeks. 


How should I sleep to relieve neck pain?

Experts recommend sleeping on your back with a moderately thin pillow to provide adequate support and relieve neck pain. 

Is it better for your neck to sleep without a pillow?

The answer to this varies from person to person. In general, side and back sleepers should sleep with a not-too-thick pillow. However, stomach sleepers can forego pillows to avoid neck pain.

How high should your neck be when sleeping?

For maximum comfort, while sleeping and preventing neck pain, your pillow height or thickness should be such that it creates a straight line from your head, neck, and to the bottom of the spine. For it, your pillows should not be too thick.

A thumb rule to deciding pillow height is keeping your ears vertically stacked over each other.

How do you arrange pillows for neck pain?

Ideally, you do not need more than two pillows for neck pain when sleeping on your side and back. They should be arranged such that it keeps your head, neck and spine perfectly aligned in a straight line.


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Written by

Rahul Upadhyay
Content Writer
10 years of experience as a content writer Previously worked as a copywriter for a health journal Ability to write in a variety of formats, including articles, white papers, and clinical trial summaries

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