Can My Sleep Position Cause Neck Pain?

Jun 06, 2023
Can My Sleep Position Cause Neck Pain?
If you wake up with a stiff, achy neck most mornings, the wrong sleep position may be to blame. Find out how the right sleep position supports proper spinal alignment, and why having “good resting posture” is so important.

You might expect to develop neck pain when you’re under a lot of stress or if you spend hours hunched over your computer at work every day. What you probably don’t expect is to wake up with a stiff, achy neck every morning with no apparent reason for your discomfort.

Suppose you often wake up with neck stiffness that’s worse than neck pain caused by your daily activities. In that case, chances are your neck pain is related to poor sleep positioning and possibly an underlying cervical spine issue.

Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to resolve sleep-related neck pain, and our seasoned team at Spine Care of Manassas Chiropractic Center in Manassas, Virginia, can help. Here, we explore how poor sleep positioning can affect your neck and explain how proper sleep positioning supports neutral spinal alignment and pain-free rest. 

How poor sleep positioning affects your spine

How you position your head and body when you sleep has a direct impact on your spine health and whether you wake up feeling limber and relaxed or stiff and achy.

Practicing good posture isn’t just important when you’re seated, standing, or moving: It’s also essential when you’re at rest. Good resting posture means maintaining a neutral spine most of the time. 

When viewed from the front, a neutral spine forms a straight line down the center of your body. When viewed from the side, a neutral spine has three gentle curves to reinforce its strength and flexibility. 

Poor resting posture, on the other hand, pulls your spine out of its neutral range and stresses its supporting structures. Sleep positions that can lead to chronic neck strain and pain include:

  • On your stomach, with your head twisted to the side 
  • On your stomach, with your head resting on a high pillow 
  • On your side, with a high or low pillow that angles your neck
  • On your side, with your knees pulled toward your chest

When awkward sleep positions strain the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support your cervical spine, you may wake up with a stiff, achy neck due to stressing and overworking these parts of your body. 

Keep doing that every night for weeks or months, and the result can be long-standing neck pain, stiffness, muscle spasms, and worse. Over time, chronically poor posture (even when you’re sleeping) can lead to degenerative changes like arthritis and spinal stenosis. 

Sleep positions that support neutral alignment 

Just as poor sleep positioning can cause bad resting posture and spinal pain, optimal sleep positioning helps you maintain good resting posture and a neutral, pain-free spine. A neutral cervical spine means your neck isn’t flexed forward, backward, or to the side. 

So, which sleep positions support a neutral cervical spine? Let’s take a closer look:

On your back

Lying flat on your back is the optimal sleep position for maintaining a fully neutral spine and minimizing musculoskeletal stress. Sleeping on your back helps evenly distribute your weight across the widest surface of your body, limiting pressure points and preventing unnatural or exaggerated spinal curves. 

To keep your cervical spine in neutral alignment, place a small pillow beneath your head and neck (your shoulders should be flat on the mattress). 

You can also try keeping your head on the mattress, placing a small cylindrical pillow in the crook of your neck to support your cervical spine. To keep your lumbar spine (lower back) in neutral alignment, it may help to place a small bolster pillow beneath your knees. 

On your side

If you don’t like sleeping on your back or you’re prone to snoring when you do — or if you simply like to change your body positioning throughout the night — sleeping on your side with your legs stretched out (not curled toward your chest) can be an ideal alternative. 

When side sleeping, place a thin pillow between your legs to keep your lumbar spine, pelvis, and hips neutrally aligned. Rest your head and neck on a pillow that’s just thick enough to keep your cervical spine straight and unflexed. Your head shouldn’t angle up or down, and your shoulders should remain on the mattress.

Resolve neck pain with postural rehabilitation

If your neck pain persists even with attentive sleep position adjustments, come see our team. Sometimes, the imbalances, misalignments, or damage caused by poor sleep posture must be addressed at a deeper level before you can find relief. 

Depending on what we find during your assessment, we may recommend: 

If you’ve been waking up with neck pain, Spine Care of Manassas Chiropractic Center can help. Give us a call today, or use our easy online booking feature to schedule a visit with Dr. Lincoln German or Dr. Mikaela Foley in our Manassas, Virginia, office any time.