Sleeping with Neck Pain? All You Need to Know

Sleeping with Neck pain

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Do you have neck pain that’s affecting your sleep? Sleep can be challenging even without pain, but here’s the thing:

Your sleep position may be the reason for your neck pain!

We know, we know, changing your sleep position is challenging, but there are ways to modify your current sleeping position to help with neck pain.

How to Reduce Neck Pain when Sleeping

Ultimately, no matter which position you sleep in, the key to reducing neck pain while you sleep is maintaining spinal alignment.

This means keeping your ears, shoulders, and hips in line as best you can.

We have a natural curvature to our spine, and this is where pillows come in.

You can use pillows to help support that curvature and reduce stress and we’ll discuss which pillow is best for your sleeping position.

While pillows can help support you in any position, not all sleeping positions are created equal.

So what are the best sleeping positions for neck pain? We’ll rank them from worst to best:

Sleeping Position to Avoid: Sleeping on your Stomach

Sleeping on your Stomach

Sorry stomach sleepers, we’re going to discuss why sleeping on your stomach is bad.

When you sleep on your stomach you’re required to turn your head to the side.

This rotation takes away spinal alignment and it can be a significant amount of rotation.

Sure, that rotation might start off feeling comfortable, but think about keeping your neck in that position for hours at a time!

While there are ways to modify sleeping positions, there isn’t a great way to modify stomach sleeping to reduce that curvature in your neck.

A way to modify is to stack pillows under one side of your body so that you are slightly tilted.

Think of it as halfway between side sleeping and stomach sleeping. This will reduce rotation in your neck, although it will not get rid of it!

The other thing to think about is using a flatter pillow or no pillow at all to further reduce neck rotation.

Middle of the Road: Sleeping on your Side

Sleeping on your Side

This position is better than sleeping on your stomach, but not quite as good as sleeping on your back.

When you sleep on your side you need a little more support to keep your spine aligned and ears in line with your shoulders.

Your head is higher off the mattress so you need a taller pillow or maybe even two pillows to keep spinal alignment.

Something to consider is if you have pain on one side of your neck (and you’re a side sleeper), try changing sides to see if that helps with pain.

This might help with tight muscles by allowing your neck to be in a new position.  

Best Way to Sleep to Reduce Neck Pain: Sleeping on your Back

Sleeping on your Back

This is the best position for your neck! The biggest benefit to sleeping on your back is that it’s the easiest to keep your spine in alignment.

The biggest thing to consider in this position is how fluffy your pillow is.

Remember, you want your ears in line with your shoulders.

While supper fluffy pillows or two pillows sounds comforting, when you sleep on your back they can crank your neck forward and move your ears out of alignment with your shoulders.

Pillow options that help are pillows that follow the natural curve of the neck or flatter pillows.

Some people even choose to sleep without a pillow for neck pain, but it’s all about your preferences at night.

Other Things to Consider

Make sure you have a supportive mattress that allows for spinal alignment, remember your goal is to keep your ears in line with your shoulders and hips.

Also, don’t forget to be conscious of your neck position before you fall asleep.

Watch out for awkward positions while reading in bed or playing on your phone, that can set you up with neck pain no matter which position you sleep in!

Stretches to Help with Neck Pain

Trying out some stretches may also help with neck stiffness. Check out our YouTube video for two neck stretches! 

Back of Neck Stretch

Back of Neck Stretch | Neck & Shoulder Pain


  1. Start by sitting up tall in a chair.
  2. Then take your right hand and hold onto the side of the chair seat, keep it there for the stretch.
  3. Look down at your left armpit and place your left hand on your head to gently increase the feeling of the stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
  5. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Front of Neck Stretch


  1. Start by sitting up tall in a chair.
  2. Then take both of your hands and place them over your chest a little to the left of your breastbone (the bone in the center of your chest).
  3. Look up and over your right shoulder like you’re looking for your seatbelt in the car.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
  5. Repeat 3 times on each side.
Front of Neck Stretch | Neck and Shoulder Pain

But really, hold these stretches for the full 30 seconds if you can.

Think of your muscles like rubber bands. If you take a rubber band and only stretch it for a second it snaps right back into place and is the same length.

We want our shortened and stiff neck muscles to get longer so we need to hold the stretch longer to change the muscle length.

Think of the rubber band you’ve been using to hold together a bunch of pens.

If you take that rubber band off after it’s been stretched for a while it’s longer than when you started.

Research shows holding a stretch for 30 seconds is the ideal amount of time to hold a stretch.

If you’re feeling a lot of discomfort, lighten up on the stretch or start out only holding for 15 seconds.

As you tolerate the stretches better aim for 30 seconds.

Pro Tip

Use a timer! We’re all very good at counting to 30 quickly when we hold a stretch.

Using a timer will make sure you’re actually holding for the full time.

Yes, it will be the longest 30 seconds of your life, but the time is worth it when you start to feel the results of lengthened neck muscles in the morning.

Is Waking Up with a Stiff Neck Serious?

Walking with Neck Pain

The answer to this generally depends on how severe your symptoms are and if the symptoms are new.

Ultimately, if you’re experiencing significant pain or a sudden onset of new pain, it’s a good idea to reach out to your primary care physician.

It’s also worth reaching out if you’ve tried stretches and altered your sleeping position, but still have pain.

They might recommend a new treatment or recommend Physical Therapy.

Physical Therapy can help address some of the causes of your neck pain and help you sleep better at night!

Comment below if changing your sleeping position or pillows helped with your neck pain!

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Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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