Why Do I Get Neck Pain from Sleeping?

As we age, aches and pains become more common. Neck pain is one of the most common complaints and is usually accompanied by weakness and strain. However, age is not the only cause of neck pain. Many experience pain resulting from neck-related problems one time or the other, especially from trauma. Several factors could lead to neck pain and there are a few things we can do to take preventative measures.

One of the many causes of neck pain that we can adjust is a stiff neck after sleeping. Waking up in the morning with a painful and stiff neck can be very unexpected and inconvenient. It can impact your mood for the day, delaying, if not disrupting the plans you have for the day. After experiencing an active day that could result in neck pain, we look forward to sleep, hoping that it will help us recover from our day. It is the least expected to cause you pain. 

Turning your head may be painful. You may have to be conscious of every neck movement and move slowly. The neck muscles may be weak, and when you try to turn your head, the joint may feel as if it longer moves smoothly. The joint may be pulling a muscle, hitting on a nerve inappropriately, or doing both. Really, if you have ever experienced neck pain, you will agree that it’s not an ideal way to start a day. You are left wondering and asking yourself, “what exactly did I do wrong?”

Let’s review everything you need to know about neck pain: the causes, the symptoms, prevention, and the treatment.

Causes of Neck Pain

Weakened neck muscles resulting from poor posture or misuse can result in stiff neck and neck pain. Working with screens all day and every day at work can also lead to neck pain. Carrying a heavy bag, prolonged straining, stress, and unexpectedly, sleep is another known cause of neck pain. However, of these, we will be looking at how neck pain could result from sleeping. 

Causes of Neck Pain from Sleeping

At times, neck pain may be so severe that the pain becomes excruciating, limiting your daily activities. A stiff neck from sleep can limit the extent of head rotation on the neck. It may be agonizing to rotate your head unless you twist your whole body to your direction of choice. Neck pain can also limit your sleep quality, increasing stress levels, and make you less functional during the day. The following, amongst others, are the significant causes of stiff neck/neck pain from sleeping:

Pre-existing neck injury

There are some injuries sustained during the day that do not manifest their symptoms immediately. Whiplash, for example, may take hours before pain and stiffness develop. You may be wondering how the injury you sustained day has not caused you any pain at the moment, while ordinary sleep has led to so much pain in the past. The truth is, it is the same injury sustained during the day that has led to such pain while sleeping. 

Sleeping in an awkward position

When you sleep and assume an awkward position for an extended period, it can lead to neck pain. Sleeping in an awkward position is not precisely the same as sleeping in an uncomfortable position. Yes, the position might be comfortable for you while you are trying to fall asleep, but it may lead to discomfort in the long run. But because you are sleeping, you will not realize or feel the pain. Therefore, your neck remains in this awkward position for a prolonged period until you wake up. During that time, your neck muscles may have been overstretched and stressed. Your neck ligaments and the joint may have also been strained beyond their normal limits, leading to a stiff neck and, consequently, a painful neck.

An example is sleeping on your belly. Different people indeed have sleeping positions that they find comfortable. Sleeping on your tummy implies turning your neck to one side for a long time. If your neck remains this way throughout your sleep, you may notice pain in your neck when you wake up.

Is it time for a new pillow?

The material that you sleep on could also result in a painful experience. If your mattress is too soft or hard, it could lead to a variety of body pains. Most especially your pillow, if it is of bad quality, it is likely that you may wake up with neck pain because your neck and head spend a lot of time on your pillow while sleeping. If the pillow you use at home does not provide your head and neck with adequate support, it could create tension in your neck muscles and result in neck pain. Consider a feather or memory-foam pillow that will allow for a neutral spine and neck.

Sudden movements while sleeping

Sometimes it is not about sleeping in an uncomfortable position or having a known injury. Yes, you do not have a pre-existing injury, and you slept in a good position, yet you ended up with neck pain when you woke up. This might be due to sudden movements while sleeping. You may roll at night from one position to another or even while reacting to a dream. This sudden movement can cause strain and even sprain your neck ligaments, resulting in neck pain.

Prevention of Neck Pain from Sleeping

If you want to prevent neck pain from sleeping, there are some preventive measures that you can put in place. Actions that will offer you adequate neck support while sleeping. They include:

  1. If you are a belly sleeper, try sleeping on your side, keeping your head and neck aligned with the rest of your body. 
  2. try putting a pillow in-between your legs when sleeping on your side. This will ensure that your neck aligns with your spine and thus helps prevent any possible neck pain.
  3. Ensure that the pillow under your neck while sleeping is not too big. The pillow should not be higher under your head than your neck such that your head is inclined. Sleeping with your head inclined may strain your neck muscles and may lead to soreness by morning.
  4. Make sure to use an appropriate pillow, a feather pillow that can adjust quickly to the shape of your head and neck. Though it is not advisable to use these pillows for an extended time, they tend to lose shape over time. So, replace them in about 12-24 months.
  5. Replace mattresses that sag in the middle with a medium-firm type that can offer adequate back and neck support.

Other preventive measures to avoid neck pain include:

  • Regular exercise during the day and physical activity help you strengthen your muscles, including those in your neck. It also improves your posture and relieves you of stress that could result in a stiff neck.
  • When operating your mobile devices, make sure to hold them at a high level to avoid bringing your neck forward or down. 
  • Ensure to stand or sit appropriately without hunching your back.

Treatment of Neck Pain from Sleeping

The following remedies would help in managing neck pain from sleeping:

  • Cryotherapy or Thermotherapy 

For acute neck pain, it is recommended that you apply cryotherapy (Ice Therapy). This will help in limiting the swelling. Ice therapy is the best approach for acute neck injuries. Heat therapy, however, can be introduced as a heating pad after about three days of the injury. This will relax and loosen your neck muscles, and as a result, reduce neck pain, improving neck mobility.  

  • Medication 

Over-the-counter drugs may be necessary if the neck pain and stiffness are significant, limiting the range of motion. Some examples of OTC drugs you can use include pain relievers like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, and/or Naproxen.

  • Neck stretching/Massage 

While heat therapy helps to stretch the neck muscles and loosen stiffness, further loosening could also be achieved by gentle neck stretching. Though the full range of some stretches cannot be attained due to neck pain, that is not a problem. The goal is to increase the range of motion without causing additional pain. Also, you can use your hand to gently massage your neck. Just ensure it does not lead to more pain. 

Other ways you can stretch your neck include:

  1. Look up your ceiling as far as you can and bring your head back to the center. Repeat this process about ten times
  2. Using your chin as a pointer, gently sketch the alphabet in the air from A-Z,
  3. Rotate your head to the right. Then push your chin gently with your left hand. Take it back to the center and repeat on the left side—complete ten repetitions in both directions.


While neck stiffness or neck pain from sleeping can result in severe pain, it can also be prevented by taking appropriate measures. 

Disclaimer: The post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek your physician’s advice or other qualified health providers with any questions regarding a medical condition.