Why Does My Neck Hurt When I Wake Up? How Do I Get Rid Of Neck Pain From Sleeping Wrong?

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When you wake up in the morning, you may be thinking why does my neck hurt when I wake up? It can sometimes be overwhelming if you suffer from neck pain after sleeping everyday. Neck pain from sleeping may be due to your sleeping position or inadequate sleeping support. Pillows, mattresses and previous injury can all be reasons for neck pain while sleeping or upon waking.

Sleeping on your side and sleeping on your back are considered to be the best sleep positions. They are the easiest sleep position for the cervical spine and may help to prevent neck pain. Waking up with a stiff neck or neck strain is a common occurrence with the awkward angle associated with sleeping on your stomach.

A sore neck can be a very uncomfortable start to the day. If you are battling neck pain when you sleep improperly, then you have arrived at the right place. Continue reading if you’re having difficulty sleeping or when waking up.

Why does my neck hurt when I wake up? Woke up with neck pain can’t turn your head?

The neck or cervical spine is a series of several vertebral bones sitting on top of each other like a pillar, separated by intervertebral discs. These discs are shock absorbers that allow the spine to move freely through various range of motions. When you wake up with a sore neck, there may be a variety of potential contributing factors, these may include:

Neck muscles:

The primary muscles supporting the neck include the Cervical Erector Spinae, Trapezius, Levator Scapulae, Sternocleidomastoid (SCM), Suboccipitals and deep cervical flexors.

Muscle strain is a common issue when it comes to waking up with neck pain from sleeping. The sleeping position you are in may play a factor:

Sleeping on your back

Sleeping on your back may strain the posterior cervical spine and irritated the muscles at the back of the neck. If you sleep with too many pillows pushing your head forward, you may strain the Suboccipitals, the Levator Scapulae or the Cervical Erector Spinae. It also may put excess strain on the intervertebral discs by forcing the cervical spine out of neutral and into flexion. These may all lead to a stiff neck. If you suffer from disc issues with spinal symptoms, you may want to avoid this position. It may lead to increases in radiculopathy, as it increases the pressure the bulged disc puts on the spinal nerves.

Sleeping on your side

Side sleepers may find that their neck pain persists as they continue to sleep on one particular side vs the other. There are a few options to reduce neck pain for this, either switching your side you sleep on or changing to a back position may help. Another option is to assess your pillow set up. If your shoulders are narrow or broad you may find relief in changing the number of pillows, a person with broad shoulders may need two or one and a half pillows (using a thinner pillow either on the top or bottom of your usual pillow). The opposite would be applied for narrow shoulders.

The muscles strained may include the Levator Scapulae, Cervical Erector spinae, or the Suboccipitals. You may also find the facet joints (connecting the vertebral bodies) are sore on the side being compressed during sleep, creating inflammation in those joints. According to this 2019 study, side lying was seen as the more protective position. 3

Sleeping on your stomach

Stomach sleeping position is considered the worst sleeping position. This is due to the uncomfortable spinal position which may create excess pressure on the joints and strain the anterior (front) neck muscles. This may also impact breathing comfortably while sleeping. To prevent neck pain, it would be advised that you begin to retrain yourself to avoid stomach sleeping positions.


Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis in the world. This is due to the gradual degeneration of the spine and chronic pain can be a strong indicator of this. This may be aggravated by the position in which you sleep. Sleeping on the front may create a poor sleep posture and increase the pressure on the arthritic joints within the neck. It is important if you know you have any amount of degeneration you can mitigate the risk of further issues by ensuring you have adequate support while you sleep. The biggest contributing factors outside of sleep position are pillows and mattresses.

Best sleeping position for neck pain

How long does neck pain last from sleeping wrong? Your neck pain may hinder sleep. About 30-50% of people suffer from neck pain generally each year and approximately 50-85% suffer from continuing or chronic neck pain or discomfort. 1

Some sleeping positions can cause neck discomfort as discussed, previously. This may lead to poor sleep performance. Getting sufficient sleep helps plays a major factor in your overall health.

Side sleeping and the back sleep position is the most advised position to relieve neck pain.

These positions allow for a more natural curve and allow for a straighter spine and reduces poor posture while sleeping.

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What are my options to relieve stress on the spine?

If you are suffering from a stiff neck or neck irritation, it would be best to avoid sudden movement but a heating pad or warm shower may be one your best options for reducing tension and the local musculoskeletal pain. You may also want to try over the counter painkillers to reduce inflammation and pain. Gentle exercises are also very useful to reduce pain in stiff muscles.

However, the best solution is a sleeping posture based approach. Consider using the best sleeping positions in combination with an orthopedic or memory foam pillow. If you aren’t a fan of memory foam, a supportive feather pillow may be useful in keeping the spine straight and neck aligned.

According to this 2014 study, the orthopedic pillow scored much better in temperature, VAS (visual analogue scale) for pain and cervical curve upon testing. When compared against memory foam and feather pillows.

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There you have it! Allowing you to avoid non restorative sleep and find a neutral position while sleeping is the best way to reduce pain and target the causes of neck pain. Sleeping problems caused by neck pain should be a thing of the past following this information!

References –
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2974793/

  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25008402/

  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31256029/