Your Cart

The Best Sleeping Positions for Neck Pain Relief

If you regularly deal with neck pain or stiffness, your sleep position could be making matters worse. The way you align your head, neck, and spine during sleep can either alleviate or aggravate pain and tension in your neck.

Finding the best sleeping positions to minimize strain on your sore neck muscles and joints is key to reducing aches and improving rest. Adjusting your posture may take some trial and error, but can pay off significantly in terms of waking up feeling better rested and free of pain.

Here are some of the top sleeping positions to try for relieving neck discomfort:

Back Sleeping

Many doctors and physical therapists recommend back sleeping as the ideal position for neck pain. Sleeping on your back allows your head, neck and spine to maintain a neutral alignment, reducing mechanical stress.

Place a cervical pillow under your neck to support your head without tilting it up too far. Use a slim pillow to avoid neck flexion. You can also try lying completely flat. Bend your knees with a pillow underneath to take pressure off your lower back if needed.

Avoid using multiple pillows, which can prop your head up too much. Also refrain from resting your hands behind your head or neck while sleeping on your back.

Side Sleeping

Sleeping on your side is another good option for neck pain as it helps maintain the natural curve of your neck and spinal alignment. The key is positioning your pillow correctly to avoid misalignment.

Place a firm pillow or cervical roll between your knees to prevent your upper body from twisting out of neutral posture. Use a contoured cervical pillow made specifically for side sleepers to cradle your neck comfortably.

You can also try putting a small, slim pillow under the upper shoulder and arm to fill in the space beneath your neck for support and neutral positioning.

Elevated Upper Body

Sleeping in a slightly upright position can take pressure off sore neck muscles by reducing the downward pull of gravity. This can make falling asleep and staying asleep easier.

Raise the head of your bed by placing blocks under the legs at the headboard end or use a wedge pillow. Don’t raise your upper body more than 30 degrees to avoid airway constriction and breathing issues.

An incline of 15 to 30 degrees straightens the curvature of your neck and eases muscle strain. You can also try using extra pillows to prop yourself up for a similar effect.

Therapeutic Contour Pillows

The right contour pillow can work wonders by providing an ergonomically designed space to rest your head and neck in proper alignment. This alleviates pinching and reduces muscle strain.

Look for pillows made specifically for neck pain that have an indented center to cradle your head and raised sides to support your neck in neutral posture. Memory foam options also conform nicely to your shape.

Softer, deeper contours often work best for side sleepers while firmer versions may be optimal for back sleepers. Try different styles to find your ideal firmness, shape and thickness.

Avoid Sleeping on Stomach

Sleeping face down is usually the worst position for neck pain as it overextends the neck and twists the head to the side. This strains muscles and puts stress on joints in the neck.

If you must sleep on your stomach, try lying with your head turned to alternate sides during the night. Place a slim pillow under your hips and abdomen to prevent hyperextending your neck. Your pillow should be thin and very soft to prevent neck twisting.

However, most doctors don’t recommend stomach sleeping for people with chronic neck pain since finding a truly comfortable, neutral position is difficult.

Cervical Traction

Gently stretching the neck through cervical traction before bed can help elongate tight muscles and alleviate pinched nerves. This helps you fall asleep and stay asleep more comfortably.

The simplest method is to hang your head gently off the edge of your bed and place a pillow under your upper back for support, allowing gravity to gently pull your neck. Hold for a few minutes, taking breaks as needed.

You can also purchase cervical traction devices that allow you to adjust the amount of traction. Use caution and avoid over-pulling or straining the neck. Discontinue if you experience tingling, numbness or pain.

Posture Practice

How you hold your neck and head during the day impacts how your sleep at night. Practicing proper upright posture reduces damaging positions that strain your neck like slouching and tilting your head forward.

Make sure your workstation and car seat are aligned to keep your neck straight. Take regular breaks if sitting for long periods. Use towels or cervical pillows for extra neck support if needed.

Simple exercises like chin tucks and shoulder rolls help counteract poor posture and strengthen neck muscles. Just don’t overdo it to the point of injury. Moving around also prevents stiffness.

Topical Therapies

Applying something warm or cold directly to your sore neck shortly before bedtime can relieve muscle tightness and temporarily reduce pain.

Heat stimulates blood circulation to ease stiffness fast. Cold decreases inflammation for comforting relief. Alternate or use whatever feels best to your neck.

Topical menthol creams provide a cooling sensation to distract from neck aches. Pain relieving gels like lidocaine work to numb sore spots for faster pain relief and restful sleep.

Over-the-Counter Medication

For temporary relief, over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation that worsens neck pain at night. Acetaminophen also eases generalized aches.

Some muscle relaxants used for neck strains have sedative effects that encourage sleep. However, the drowsiness may linger into the next day. Only use occasionally for severe pain and check for medication interactions.

While medication can help in the short-term, addressing the root cause of neck pain through sleep position, physical therapy and lifestyle changes is key for an ongoing solution.

See a Doctor for Severe, Ongoing Pain

It’s normal to have an occasional difficult night due to neck pain. But if intense pain routinely interferes with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep for over a week, it’s time to see your doctor.

Severe neck pain that affects your sleep likely indicates an underlying issue requiring medical treatment, such as a pinched nerve, bulging disc, muscle strain or alignment problem. Diagnostic imaging and physical therapy may help. In rare cases, surgery is warranted.

Don’t let neck pain night after night become your new normal. Take steps to improve your sleeping posture and see a physician to get proper treatment so you can sleep comfortably and wake up energized.