Getting a proper night’s rest is an essential part of maintaining a healthy mind and body. Regardless of what may be troubling you mentally or physically, sleep is critical in allowing your cells to regenerate and repair themselves. When that can’t occur naturally as it should, any ailment you may have going into that rest is now amplified.  

It is a vicious cycle that doesn’t end, you have difficulty sleeping due to the pain, and the sleep will ultimately help you overcome the pain. What happens when that pain, particularly in the neck, results from a poor night’s rest? How do you address this so that you do not continue the cycle of pain? Luckily, there are many ways to navigate this, which can get you on the right course to feeling like yourself again.  

Causes of Neck Pain While Sleeping

To determine how to treat this pain, first take a deep dive into what the cause is to begin with. There could be varying degrees in which the discomfort feels like to you depending upon how severe the injury is. Treatment can be better tailored to target relief based on this key factor. 

Poor Posture – During the day while tied to a desk chair or any sort of nonactive seating, you may be suffering from having poor posture thus resulting in the lower back as well as lower neck discomfort. The spinal cord running down your back can affect many different parts of the body, including the neck when it is strained.  

Pillow – The pillow’s main job is to support your head and neck while you are resting. If it is not doing its job properly, then neck pains will most definitely be an issue when you wake. “A pillow that doesn’t support your head and neck properly can create tension in your neck muscles, and cause neck pain.”  

Injury – Any previous injury to your neck may not manifest itself right away, but after sleeping it can feel stiff or sore to move. There is not likely much to be done in this setting to prevent the pain, other than being aware of any potential injury which occurred previously that could be the cause of your pain.  

Sudden Movement – During active REM sleep, you are often unaware of any jerking or quick motion movements of your body. As such, there may be instances where your body was simply unprepared for that sudden impulse of activity, leading to a sore or stiff neck in the morning. Likewise, tossing and turning while sleeping can also cause a strain in the neck muscles. There is little to remedy this from happening, but to be aware of the possibilities which cause your pain can help to eliminate what larger issues you may be encountering.  

Sleep Position – This is a very likely culprit to the sudden onset of neck pain when you wake up. “Sleeping on your stomach is tough on your spine because the back is arched and your neck is turned to the side.” When you sleep on your side, you may also not be supporting your spine very well, so be aware of how you sleep to put as little stress on the spine as possible as sleeping is immobility for a long stretch of time on the body. You could be laying in the same unsupported position for hours on end creating a stressful environment for your back.

Solution 1: Topical Pain Relief Cream and Gel

Whatever may be the root of your neck pain, relief is needed, and as quickly as possible. If your pain is unbearable, of course, the first option should be to schedule a visit to your physician.  

In the meantime, while you are awaiting an appointment, a quick way to find relief is to apply a topical pain relief cream, ointment, or gel. The reason why these work so well is that they often contain ingredients such as menthol or a form of salicylate which is in the same family as aspirin. Besides the inclusion of these highly powerful active ingredients, this pain relief method can be applied and absorbed into the skin rapidly, thus providing a temporary solution to your pain. Compared to just taking aspirin that needs to go through your bloodstream to tell your brain which body part needs to feel relief, direct topical application to the area you need it the most will fare well in helping manage your issue. What is also a positive aspect of using a topical treatment is that it’s non-habit forming–just about anyone can use them without severe repercussions to your overall health. To properly treat your neck pain, ensure that you follow the directions on the product properly so as to not accidentally cause a reaction in a more sensitive part of your body like in the eyes.  

Solution 2: Stretching

Sleeping improperly can cause stiffness in the neck, making your range of motion limited. If you do not have access to any sort of pain relief cream to ease up the tension before stretching, heading straight into it may be your only option. Start off slowly by doing some breathing exercises and other movements, which will bring the flow of oxygen back into your body in general. 

Yoga is a great start to get your body moving and, depending on the pose, may not require much movement around the neck. Once you have the circulation in your body going, try moving a bit at a time in the direction that the soreness/stiffness is occurring. Small and steady should win the race to not cause further discomfort. 

If you are unable to loosen the affected spot in your neck, keep trying your best little by little throughout the day, rotate, and move that area to allow proper blood flow to the region. Learning exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the neck may help you feel like your old self again.

Solution 3: Back Support Brace

Our bodies are connected in ways in which we sometimes don’t realize. The nerve endings down your spine which of course runs down your back can affect so many various parts of the body whether we recognize it or not. 

If you can feel or sense that the cause of your neck pain when sleeping could be related to an issue in your back, a great go-to treatment would be a good back support brace. Having your spine and back aligned properly especially when sitting or being active, can put pressure on your spinal cord thus sending pain from your lower back all the way up to your lower neck. When this already strained area is not properly addressed, sleeping improperly can cause this flare-up to reoccur when you awaken. 

With a back support brace, if you are confined to a desk all day and your poor posture is the root of the issue of this discomfort, you will be supported in a manner that helps to correct that improper posture. It is a non-medicated and long term solution that can yield the best results if you follow through with it fully. Use it in conjunction with a pain relief cream or ointment and your road to recovery can be that much shorter.

Solution 4: Adjusting Your Sleep

Being aware of your sleep positioning can be highly beneficial to waking up free of neck pain. Especially in the instance where pain may already be an issue due to poor posture or any other issues, the more you can keep your back and your neck supported during the long stretch of sleeping hours, the better. 

Try to look for a pillow that can conform to the shape of your neck easily such as a foam or feather pillow. Too stiff of pillows can cause your neck to strain as it works to hold itself in an elevated position. Avoid sleeping on your stomach as much as possible as there is absolutely no support to the spine when doing so which will without a doubt cause discomfort in your back and neck. Similarly, sleeping on your side needs to include support to your back as much as possible. In this position, try looking for a pillow that will help elevate your neck so that it will not cause strain and be supported.

When waking from neck pain, there are several potential causes but ultimately they are all treatable causes. The majority of the time if you have no known pre-existing conditions or prior injury, it can be attested to improper sleep positioning and neck support. 

As frustrating as it can get to not be able to have a full range of motion with your head, your neck and the muscles surrounding it are stronger than you think. 

Don’t let the pain damper your day, there are many things that can be done on your own which can and will easily provide you with the relief you need.