Should You Sleep On the Side of Your Neck That Hurts?

If you’re losing sleep because of neck pain, you’re not alone. About 15% of adults deal with bothersome neck pain that interrupts their rest. And when those agonizing kinks keep you up at night, it’s natural to try changing positions in hopes of some relief. But is sleeping on the side that hurts wise? Or will it make matters worse? Here’s what you should know.

Why Neck Pain Happens

Neck pain often stems from strained muscles or inflamed joints. Sleeping in awkward positions can overextend the neck, leading to muscle tightness and spasms. Damaged joints or discs between the vertebrae may also act up at night.

No matter the cause, the pain is very real. And it’s no wonder many neck pain sufferers toss and turn to find a tolerable sleeping position. The big question is: if one side of your neck hurts, should you sleep on it or avoid it?

The Case for Favoring the Sore Side

Intuitively, it would seem smart to take pressure off an aching neck by sleeping on the other side. However, some chiropractors and physical therapists recommend the opposite. Sleeping on the side that hurts may allow gravity to pull the neck back into better alignment. This takes strain off irritated muscles, joints, and discs so they can start to heal.

Sleeping on the sore side can also help strengthen muscles that have become unbalanced. When one side of the neck feels noticeably tighter or weaker than the other, it often benefits from being exercised more. Lying on it for hours nightly can provide a gentle endurance workout.

The Potential Risks

Still, favoring an already inflamed area is not without risks. Sleeping on an extremely painful neck could make matters worse by overworking damaged tissues. And if a neck injury or neurological issue like a pinched nerve or radiculopathy is causing pain, compression could lead to more severe nerve aggravation.

It’s also important to note that while sleeping on the sore side may help some people, it aggravates symptoms for others. Neck pain has many possible causes, so there is no one-solution-fits-all. Paying attention to your body’s responses is key.

Tips for Pain-Free Sleep

If you decide to try sleeping on your sore neck side, keep these tips in mind:

  • Go low-risk. Don’t sleep exclusively on a side that’s intensely painful. Start by spending only part of the night on that side and see how it goes.
  • Use a proper pillow. Choose a cervical pillow that supports neck alignment and cradles the head.
  • Try heat first. Apply a heating pad or warm shower before bed to relax muscles.
  • Watch arm height. Sleep with your upper arm lower than your shoulder to avoid over-twisting the neck.
  • See a doctor. If pain persists for over a week or worsens, seek professional care.

Aching necks can disrupt rest, health, work, and quality of life. While sleeping on the painful side may help some people, others should avoid direct pressure. Pay attention to your symptoms and experiment cautiously with different positions and aids. And if neck pain drags on, always see your doctor to explore medications, physical therapy, injections, or other treatments that can zzzzz you back into dreamland.