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Recovering from a Sore Neck After Sleeping Incorrectly

We all wake up with some aches and pains from time to time. But waking up with a terribly sore neck that hurts to move can really put a damper on your day. Neck pain caused by sleeping in an awkward position or on an unsuitable pillow is common. Luckily, there are many simple things you can do at home to help your neck feel better fast.

Causes of Waking Up with Neck Pain

Sleeping in a position that strains your neck all night can lead to pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion of the neck come morning. Some common causes include:

  • Using a pillow that is too high or thick, forcing the neck into excessive flexion.
  • Sleeping without any neck support from a pillow.
  • Resting your neck in an awkward tilted or rotated position rather than neutrally aligned.
  • Sleeping on your stomach with your neck turned to the side.
  • Having your neck propped up too high by multiple pillows.
  • Using a pillow that provides unequal support.
  • Having poor posture during sleep due to a mattress that is too soft or firm.
  • Sleeping in a cold room which can make muscles tense up and restrict blood flow.

Treating Neck Pain from Sleeping Poorly

Fortunately, you can take many actions at home to help speed up your recovery from a sore neck after sleeping in the wrong position:

  • Apply cold therapy – Use an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel for up to 20 minutes to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Take an OTC pain reliever – Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can ease neck discomfort.
  • Massage the neck – Gently rub the sore muscles to help them relax.
  • Perform neck stretches – Slowly stretch the neck to each side, down to the chest, and by gently tilting the head to relieve tension.
  • Try neck traction – Lie down and let your head hang gently off the edge of a bed with a towel roll under your neck for traction.
  • Use a heating pad – Apply a heating pad or warm towel to boost blood flow after the first 48 hours.
  • Watch your posture – Be mindful of keeping your neck properly aligned throughout the day.
  • Get a new pillow – Switch to an ergonomic cervical pillow that supports neck alignment.
  • Consider physical therapy – If pain persists over a few weeks, see a physical therapist for rehabilitation.

The Importance of Proper Neck Alignment During Sleep

The most crucial factor in preventing neck pain during sleep is maintaining proper neck alignment on a suitable pillow that conforms to your sleeping position. Here are some key considerations for proper neck alignment:

  • Back sleepers – Need a relatively thin pillow to prevent over flexing the neck. Opt for a flattened pillow, thin foam wedge, or contoured cervical pillow.
  • Side sleepers – Require a thicker pillow to fill the gap between their head and mattress to keep their neck straight. Use a firm, thick pillow.
  • Stomach sleepers – Need the thinnest pillows to avoid neck hyperextension. Try a very slim pillow, folded towel, or no head support.
  • Combination sleepers – May benefit from a shaped cervical contour pillow with different thicknesses to accommodate changing positions.
  • Mattress firmness – Chronic neck pain may require a firmer mattress. But use a soft mattress topper if your mattress is too firm and causing misalignment.
  • Pillow loft – Follow the “one fist distance” rule, where your pillow should only lift your head one fist distance from the mattress.

When to See a Doctor

While most instances of sleeping-related neck pain resolve within a few days or weeks, consult your doctor if you experience:

  • Persistent or worsening neck pain that lasts over 1 month
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand
  • Severe difficulty moving your neck in certain directions
  • Headaches, especially after neck movements
  • Loss of coordination or balance
  • Bladder or bowel control issues after injury

These may indicate a more serious condition like a herniated disc, arthritis, or nerve compression. Imaging like x-rays or MRI along with physical therapy may be needed for long-lasting neck problems.


Waking up with a stiff, sore neck after sleeping in an awkward position, on an improper pillow, or in poor alignment is very common. Luckily, symptoms usually resolve within a few days using simple home remedies like cold and heat therapy, OTC medication, gentle stretches and exercises, and being mindful of your neck position. Supporting proper neck alignment during sleep goes a long way towards preventing pain. But be sure to see a doctor if severe or persistent neck pain arises.