Woke up with neck pain? Neck pain that strikes first thing in the morning can put a real damper on your day. Not only is the constant ache a distraction, but the stiffness and loss of mobility associated with neck pain can limit your physical activity and in some cases, start a cycle that can actually make your neck pain worse.
If you’ve been asking “why does my neck hurt when I wake up?” then this guide is for you. This article will tell you what to do if your neck hurts from sleeping, including strategies to help avoid neck pain in the future. We’ll be covering a few of the key reasons why you may have woke up with a painful neck, and the changes you can make to help you start the day pain-free. Read on to learn what to do if your neck hurts from sleeping.
Why do I keep waking up with a sore neck?
Waking up with a sore neck is usually caused by strain placed on the neck and shoulder muscles while sleeping. If your head and neck don’t receive proper support when you lie down for a long period of time, this can put strain on your neck muscles. This strain can lead to stiffness and soreness when you wake up.
Your sleeping position also plays a key role in determining if you will wake up pain-free in the morning. Some sleeping positions promote good support for your head, while others can place strain on parts of your muscles, leaving them tired, sore and stiff.
How do I get rid of neck pain from sleeping?
Proper support is really important to help distribute the weight of your head, neck and shoulders evenly. Making sure that the correct support is in place can help prevent strain on your muscles and prevent neck pain from sleeping.
Your pillows play a key role in making sure your head and neck are well supported. While many of us have a softness and height we prefer for our pillows, there are some factors that can improve or worsen neck pain associated with sleeping.
- Your pillows are too thin or have become flattened over time
Over time pillows can flatten with continual use. How quickly this happens depends on what material your pillows are made from. Pillows that are stuffed with polyester tend to flatten faster. As the material compacts, the pillow’s height is reduced, as is the level of support it can offer. While most experts recommend replacing your pillows every 1-2 years, polyester pillows are the least durable and may need to be replaced within 6 months.1
- Your pillows are too high
While a thin pillow can fail to provide the proper support, the same is true for pillows that are too high. The ideal position for your head and neck is parallel to your mattress – not bent. If your pillows are too high, your neck might be bent slightly upwards. While this might not feel painful at first, staying in the position over time can stress on the muscles in your neck and lead to soreness in the morning.
- Your pillow is too soft or hard
Some materials, like feather down, are soft and tend to displace as the weight of your head presses down on them. Soft pillows are great for some sleepers, but if you’ve been experiencing neck pain then you might benefit from a harder pillow, or a material that does not yield to the weight of your head.
- Your sleeping position doesn’t provide enough support
Everyone has a sleeping position they prefer, or naturally find themselves in. Some people are naturally side or back sleepers, whereas others prefer to sleep on their front. Your sleeping position, combined with the right type of pillow, can help promote good neck support. Some sleeping positions may be more likely to cause neck pain than others.
What is the best sleeping position for neck pain?
Are you a side sleeper, a back sleeper or a stomach sleeper? Most of us fall into one of these categories, and making slight adjustments in these positions can help limit neck strain.
- Side sleeper
Side sleepers will benefit from a sleeping position that keeps your neck positioned in the middle of their shoulders. Try a high pillow that’s the right height for your shoulders. When sleeping on your side, try to keep your neck straight and avoid bending it.
- Back sleeper
Keeping your neck parallel to your mattress means having a lower pillow if you’re a back sleeper. The key here is to avoid curving your neck too much. If you’re a back sleeper, try to avoid twisting your neck by letting your head flex to one side as you sleep.
- Front sleeper
If you sleep on your front, you might notice your neck and even your back are more susceptible to pain. This is because sleeping on your stomach stresses your cervical spine (the vertebrae at the top of your spine, above your shoulders), more than other positions. A low or even no pillow might be best – but because front sleeping means twisting your neck, it might be better to avoid this position if at all possible.
Woke up with neck pain and can’t turn head
Straining your neck muscles isn’t just painful, it can limit your mobility by making it painful to turn your head. If you woke up with neck pain and can’t turn your head, it may be tempting to try and keep your head straight and avoid using those muscles.
It’s important to resist the urge to keep your neck and head rigid when you experience neck stiffness. Doing so may promote further strain on already sore muscles. Your neck pain should ease as the day goes on – be sure to sit or stand upright to make sure you head is well supported, and perhaps try a few gentle exercises such as neck rotations.2
- Sit upright with your shoulders down. Look straight ahead.
- Slowly turn your head towards your left shoulder as far as feels comfortable. Hold this position for 5 seconds, then rotate your head back towards the starting position.
- Repeat this for the other side.3
How to stop your neck from hurting after sleeping
If you’re asking “why does my neck hurt when I wake up?” then know that pain doesn’t have to ruin your day. If you’ve been making changes to your sleeping position but are still wondering how to stop your neck from hurting after sleeping, there are a few gentle, non-invasive pain relief methods you can try.
Exercises for neck & shoulder pain
Keeping your neck muscles flexible can be achieved with some light exercises, and can even help prevent pain by loosening stiffness and promoting muscle strength.
Hot and cold therapy
Heat and cold pads can sometimes provide relief for sore, strained muscles. Simply hold a warm or cold compress over the affected area. Note that this method normally only provides relief for as long as the compress is applied. Be careful not to burn your skin with materials that are too hot.
Block pain at the nerve with BioWaveGO
BioWaveGO is a new way to relieve pain. This small, portable device delivers gentle electrical waves deep into painful muscles, blocking the pain at the nerve and providing real relief. Simply place the pain relief pads over the affected area for one 30-minute treatment session for up to 24-hours of pain relief.
Why does my neck hurt when I wake up?
Being aware of how your sleeping position and even your pillow affects your neck muscles is the first step in how to stop your neck from hurting after sleeping. Gentle exercises and non-invasive pain relief like BioWaveGO can help you take control of your pain and wake up refreshed and pain-free.
If you woke up with neck pain this morning, know that it’s a common issue and not usually a cause for concern. However if your pain does not go away for a few weeks or you feel that your pain could be something more serious, it’s time to get in touch with your GP.
We hope this article on “why does my neck hurt when I wake up?” has helped with some tips on what to do if your neck hurts from sleeping. Why not check out our other articles for more tips on relieving pain naturally?
- Fountain, Lauren. “How Often Should You Replace Your Pillows? Sleep Foundation.” Sleep Foundation, 11 March 2022, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedding-information/how-often-should-you-replace-your-pillows. Accessed 9 May 2022
- “Neck pain.” NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/neck-pain-and-stiff-neck/. Accessed 9 May 2022.
- “Flexibility exercises.” NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/strength-and-flexibility-exercises/flexibility-exercises/. Accessed 9 May 2022.