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sleep / wellness

How to Sleep with a Stiff Neck: Best Sleeping Positions

by BetterSleep
Nov 12 2022 • 7 min read

Stiff necks affect about 10% of the population. While it is often difficult to precisely tell the cause of a neck going stiff, many people attribute it to being in uncomfortable sleeping positions.

Most people recover from a stiff neck within a few days. However, some may experience chronic stiffness or pain that persists for weeks and even months.

Our research team looked up various research to bring you tips on preventing a stiff neck and sleeping comfortably even with this condition.

How to Sleep if You Have Back and Neck Pain

Sleeping with neck pain can be incredibly uncomfortable and make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. It’s not always easy to determine the best sleep position for your stiff neck, especially if you struggle to get comfortable.

Below are other tips on how best to sleep with a stiff neck:

Sleep on Your Back

The National Sleep Foundation recommends sleeping on your back or side as the best sleeping position for pain relief from stiff necks.

Use a rounded pillow to support your neck’s natural curve if you sleep on your back. You may also place a thin pillow cushion under your head.

Use a Firm Pillow

The incredible pain from a stiff neck can interfere with your sleep and ability to function during the day. The pain may make you struggle to find sleep positions for better sleep.

Sometimes, sleeping on an uncomfortable pillow may trigger a stiff neck. For example, a too-small pillow or one that is too fluffy may hold the neck in an awkward position.

Use a firm pillow to alleviate pain from a stiff neck. However, remember that a too-hard pillow may also cause pain as it will push the head and neck up at an awkward angle. Try out a few different types and densities of pillows until you find one that is just right for you.

Consider Adding an Extra Pillow

Neck pain can make sleeping, working, or participating in your favorite activities difficult.

Consider adding an extra pillow to reduce neck pain. If you usually sleep on your side, placing an extra pillow between your knees can help take some pressure off your neck. Also, use a pillow higher on the neck than the head to keep your spine straight.

Avoid Sleeping on Your Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach puts unnecessary pressure on your spine and neck, leading to pain and stiffness. Not to mention, it’s just plain uncomfortable.

Try a Different Sleeping Surface

If you usually sleep on a soft mattress, consider switching to a firmer one. A firmer mattress can provide better support for your back and neck and help alleviate pain.

Use Proper Alignment

Avoid hunching your shoulders or tucking your chin to your chest, no matter what position you sleep in. The goal is to avoid positions that put unnecessary strain on your neck and lead to pain.

Causes of a Stiff Neck

Several factors cause a stiff neck, from sleeping in an awkward position to whiplash. It is essential to understand the cause of your stiff neck so that you can take the necessary steps to remedy the problem.

Poor Posture

Forward head posture, or “text neck,” as it’s often called, is a posture that can cause a whole host of problems, from headaches and neck pain to fatigue and even depression. And it’s becoming increasingly common as we spend more time hunched over our electronic devices.

The problem is that when your head is positioned in front of your body for prolonged periods, it puts a lot of strain on your neck and upper back muscles.

Muscle Tension

When the muscles are tense, they can put pressure on the joints and nerves in the neck, causing pain and stiffness. In some cases, the muscles may spasm, making it difficult to move the head.

Sleeping Problems

Researchers found sleeping itself, other than just your sleeping position, may cause musculoskeletal pain. Some sleeping problems that may trigger musculoskeletal pain include difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking early in the mornings, and non-restorative sleep.

The lack of sleep quality interferes with healing and muscle relaxation processes that naturally occur during sleep.

Sleeping in an Uncomfortable Position

Waking up with a stiff neck is never fun. More often than not, it results from sleeping in an uncomfortable position, which strains the neck muscles.

The good news is that you can do a few simple things to relieve the pain. First, try gently stretching your neck from side to side. You can also try massaging the muscles with your fingers or using a heating pad. If the pain persists, you may want to see a physical therapist who can help with relaxation.

Uncommon Causes of Stiff Neck

While it is often the result of poor posture or sleeping in an awkward position, there are instances when underlying severe health conditions might have triggered the neck pain. Read on to learn about the uncommon causes of a stiff neck:

Cervical Spine Conditions

Cervical spondylosis is a condition that affects the spine in the neck, causing the bones and discs to degenerate over time. This condition can lead to a stiff neck, pain, and inflammation. In some cases, it can also cause nerve damage. Cervical spondylosis is most common in older adults. Still, it can also occur in younger people who have had an injury to the neck or have a family history of the condition.


A stiff neck is characterized by pain and difficulty moving the neck. It often results from muscle strain, arthritis, or a pinched nerve. However, an infection is one of the most common causes of a stiff neck. The neck is home to many different types of bacteria, and when these bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can cause an infection. Symptoms of an infected stiff neck include pain, redness, and swelling.

Pinched Nerves

Pinched nerves are a common cause of neck pain. The nerves in your neck come from your spinal cord, a long bundle of nerves running down your back.

These nerves branch out from your spinal cord and travel to different body parts. They carry messages from your brain to the rest of your body and sensory information back to your brain. If one of these nerves is compressed or pinched, it can cause pain, numbness, or tingling in the affected area.

When to Be Alarmed

Neck pain is a common complaint; however, it is often not severe. Nonetheless, there are some instances when neck pain can signify a more serious condition. If a person also suffers from severe headaches, dizziness, or loss of balance, it could indicate a concussion or other head injury. If the pain radiates down the arms or legs, it could signify a pinched nerve or herniated disc.

Neck and Shoulder Pain FAQs

Why does your sleeping position matter?

Depending on how you sleep, you may unnecessarily strain your neck, back, and joints. And over time, this can lead to pain and discomfort. That’s why it’s essential to choose a sleeping position that supports your spine and minimizes stress on your muscles and joints.

For example, if you sleep on your stomach, you can put strain on your lower back and neck. And if you sleep on your back, you may snore or experience sleep apnea. So next time you choose a position to catch some sleep, keep your spine in mind!

How to tell a good sleeping position from one that will cause back and neck pain

If you worry about back and neck pain in the morning, ensure that your head, neck, and spine are in a neutral position. To achieve a neutral position, you must align your head, neck, and spine to be straight. Use a pillow that comfortably supports your head and neck. By maintaining a neutral position, you can help to ensure a restful night’s sleep.

What is the worst sleeping position for neck pain?

When you don’t maintain a neutral spine alignment while you sleep, it puts unnecessary stress on the muscles and joints of the neck, which can lead to pain.

It turns out that sleeping on your stomach is one of the worst culprits. This position makes your head awkward, causing it to tilt forward and putting extra strain on your neck muscles.

Additionally, when you sleep on your stomach, you often twist your head to one side to breathe, leading to neck pain.

When is a stiff neck severe?

A stiff neck is usually nothing to worry about and will go away. However, there are some cases where a stiff neck can signify a more severe condition.

For example, a stiff neck accompanied by a headache, fever, or confusion could signify meningitis, a potentially life-threatening illness. A stiff neck where the person experiences pain in the arms or legs, nausea, or vomiting could indicate a stroke. If you experience any of these symptoms along with a stiff neck, it is vital to seek medical attention immediately.

How should I lie if my neck hurts?

If you’re experiencing neck pain, there are a few things you can do to find relief. Try to identify the cause of your pain. Once you’ve identified the source of your pain, you can take steps to relieve it.

You may find relief by applying heat or ice to the affected area due to muscle tension or strain. You can also try gently massaging the muscles in your neck. In addition to heat and ice, over-the-counter pain medications can often help with neck pain.

Wrap Up

Suffering from a stiff neck can be incredibly painful.

Not being able to get a good night’s sleep because of stiffness and pain is torture. You feel exhausted during the day, and all you want to do is curl up in a ball and go to bed, but the pain keeps you up all night.

A stiff neck doesn’t have to ruin your night’s sleep. By taking some simple precautions, you can get the rest you need.

BetterSleep Soothing Sleep Sounds can help alleviate the pain and induce them to sleep. Our sounds also help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

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