Nearly everyone has experienced neck pain at one time or another, especially upon waking up in the morning. Instead of starting the day refreshed and ready to face the day, you wake up with a stiff, painful neck that seems to take over every activity you planned on doing during the day.
Generally, a painful neck is noticed upon waking in the morning (though sometimes it disrupts sleep during the night). It is characterized by a neck that is stiff and difficult to turn, sometimes even feeling like it’s actually stuck in place. By its very name, it’s painful and disruptive to deal with. If someone with this form of neck pain were to look in the mirror, it is possible she or he would notice the neck turned to one way or the other.
Left on its own, this type of pain will usually resolve on its own within about 5 to 7 days.
While there are treatments available to help speed healing of a stiff and painful neck, one of the best ways to remedy a painful neck is never to get it in the first place. There are many factors that go into preventing neck pain; one of the easiest to adjust is simply choosing a different sleeping position.
Each night, most people choose one primary sleeping position as their favorite sleep position. This is a choice that is usually made during childhood and is an established habit by adulthood. Not all sleeping positions are created equal; however, especially when it comes to the stress they put on various parts of the body – particularly the back and neck.
Ideally, during sleep, the head and neck are supported by a pillow in such a way as to maintain a neutral position of the neck. This means that the head is not flexed forward or backward nor is it bent to one side or the other. If a person is sleeping on the back or side, it is possible with an appropriate pillow of the right size to maintain the neck in a neutral position, thus lessening the risk of waking up with pain in the neck caused by sleeping in an awkward position.
One sleeping position in particular, however, is not healthy for the neck and results in an increased risk of waking up with a stiff and painful neck. Sleeping on the stomach with the head turned 90 degrees to one side or the other is a sure recipe for waking up with a stiff neck on a regular basis. By its very nature, this position torques the neck for the duration of the night. If the muscles of the neck and upper back tense up for any reason (due to nighttime temperature change or unusual exercise from the prior day), it is highly likely that someone in this position will wake up with a neck that is extremely painful and stiff.
Changing the position in which you sleep is a great remedy to reduce the frequency of waking up with a stiff and painful neck. While it can be difficult to change, given how early in life this habit is set, the reward of less frequent pain is clearly worth the effort involved in applying this remedy and changing the habit.
Sleeping on your side is one of the best sleeping positions to decrease the night time stress on your neck (and back) and wake up refreshed and pain free on a regular basis. In order to enjoy the maximum benefit of this position, it is necessary to choose a pillow that maintains your neck in a neutral position as described above. If the pillow is too shallow, it will cause your head to be at too steep an angle relative to the bed, which will cause tension on the side opposite the one you are on, once again increasing the risk of a stiff neck. On the other hand, a pillow that is too firm will cause tension on the other side of the neck. In either case, the joint will be in an awkward position during the night, practically inviting it to lock up and become stiff.
While sleeping on your side, it is also ideal to place a pillow between your thighs and knees to provide support for your upper leg. This ensures that your upper leg does not slide forward and down during the night, thus twisting your back and neck. Maintaining proper spinal alignment is a crucial remedy to avoiding neck pain.
If sleeping on your side is not comfortable for you, another remedy position that decreases the likelihood of neck pain is sleeping on your back. Again, having the proper size pillow is essential to maintain the neck at a neutral position and not be tipped backward or forward.
Whichever sleeping position you try, it may be helpful to have a friend observe your positioning as you rest with your pillow to ensure your neck is indeed in a neutral position.
No one likes neck pain – the simple remedy of changing your sleep position is an easy way to make it a thing of the past.
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