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Why is My Pillow Giving Me a Stiff Neck?

Waking up with a stiff neck can ruin your day before it even starts. And if it keeps happening, you may start to wonder if your trusty pillow is actually to blame. A bad pillow certainly can contribute to neck pain and stiffness. The good news is that there are some simple tricks to ensure your pillow properly supports your neck and lets you wake up feeling refreshed.

Your Pillow May Be Too Thin

If your pillow is too flat or thin, it fails to keep your neck aligned properly during sleep. Your head sinks down into the mattress instead of having a supportive surface underneath. This strains the muscles and other tissues in your neck all night long. Waking up with stiffness and soreness is inevitable.

Aim for a pillow that is thicker in the bottom third to properly fill the space between your shoulder and head. This keeps your neck long and relaxed rather than scrunched up at an odd, strained angle. Down, memory foam, and latex pillows are all designed to be thicker in this bottom portion.

It May Be The Wrong Height

Pillow height impacts neck comfort and alignment as much as thickness does. One that sits too low will tilt your head down sharply. Too high of a pillow forces your neck up at an extreme angle all night.

Ideally, your pillow should be just thick enough to line up your neck with the rest of your spine when lying on your side. Measure this by paying attention to any space between the mattress and your shoulder. A comfortable, supportive pillow fills any significant gaps when you are on your side.

Consider a Cervical Pillow

Cervical pillows feature a contoured design with special cutouts and shaped portions. This intentional shape is meant to cradle your head and neck properly no matter what position you sleep in. The curves leave open spaces so you do not end up with strained pressure points along your neck.

Since cervical pillows aim to keep the spine, neck, and head fully aligned, they can work wonders for chronic neck stiffness and pain. They do take some getting used to thanks to the very molded shape. But giving your neck consistent proper support while you sleep can alleviate a lot of aches.

Your Sleep Position Matters

Your sleep position plays a pivotal role in how much neck strain happens at night. Back and stomach sleeping generally do not promote good spine alignment overall. But side sleeping evenly distributes weight and stress.

If you tend to shift positions often at night, consider a pillow that adapts well to all sleep positions. Adjustable and shredded pillows allow you to customize the thickness as needed. Wedge pillows are another option offering a gradual slope no matter how you sleep.

It May Be Time For a New Pillow

Pillows gradually lose their supportive strength and resilience over months and years of use. A worn out pillow that fails to bounce back during the night results in inadequate support of the neck. Essentially you end up sleeping on a flat surface without cushioning.

Most experts recommend replacing pillows every 12-18 months. Pay attention to any visible wear and tear, clumping, flattening, or loss of structure. If your pillow shows obvious signs of aging, swap it out right away. An old pillow could very well be the reason behind your sudden neck issues.

Give Your Pillow a Refresh

Before throwing out a pillow that seems to have lost its flare, try reviving it first. Start by washing and drying it thoroughly. Add tennis balls to the dryer to fluff the pillow back up with some helpful agitation. You can further re-inflate the cushion with some firm shakes when taking it out of the dryer.

If there are any persistent lumps or flat spots, massage and knead them out with your hands. Some extra TLC could restore the pillow’s soft yet supportive properties for a little while longer before needing a replacement.

Adjust Your Overall Posture

A supportive pillow minimizes neck strain during the night. But your daily posture also impacts how your neck feels in the morning too. Spending lots of time hunched over screens, slouched on the couch, or with your neck craned can intensify any existing stiffness.

Making conscious corrections and improvements to your posture throughout the day will take pressure off your neck. Roll your shoulders back while sitting and standing. Keep your chin level with the ground rather than sticking out. And take frequent breaks from computers and mobile devices. Maintaining better upright posture gives your neck muscles an easier time overnight.

When searching for the source of morning neck stiffness, take a close look at your pillow first. A simple swap or refresh could eliminate the discomfort within a night or two. Pay attention to your daily posture as well since all factors are intertwined. With the right pillow and positions, you will stop waking up thinking “my pillow is giving me a stiff neck”.