Saying “Goodnight” to Neck Pain

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“What’s the best position to sleep in?” is a question we hear all the time. 

But really, everyone’s body is different! Your optimal sleeping position should be the one where you feel the most comfortable and can get a good night’s sleep in. 

However, when you’re injured or having a sensitive and painful neck, sleeping positions may affect us more than we realise. Those of us who have suffered a painful neck or headaches before can understand the feeling of tossing around in bed, not being able to find a comfortable position to fall asleep in. 

Here we are going to help you understand a little bit more about the different types of sleeping positions, and how different neck conditions may benefit from one of these.

 

On Your Back

If you are used to sleeping on your side, but find that you’re waking up with neck pain or are having increased pain down the arm, try changing it to sleeping on your back. Take note though — make sure that your pillow supports your entire neck and touches the top of your shoulders. Keep your head relaxed, and you will know your pillow height is good if you don’t feel your head tilting forward (chin wants to touch your chest), or tilting backwards (chin tilts towards the ceiling). Additional support: Keeping a pillow under your knees also helps to take some stress off your lower back.

 

On Your Side

Sleeping on your side helps to relieve pressure on painful lower backs, and it also can help when you are having neck pain. However, make sure that your pillow supports directly under your head and neck (Top picture). Try to keep your head level with the rest of your body! If your pillows are too high (Bottom picture), it can put extra strain on your neck.

 

On Your Stomach

Now this is a little tricky. If you’re a stomach-sleeper, this might not be helping your neck pain very much, as it forces your neck to be in a stretched position for long periods of time when you’re sleeping. Unless you’ve mastered the trick of breathing while face-down on your pillow, your head is going to be turned to one side, and this puts pressure on already sensitive neck joints and nerves. We generally advise to AVOID this sleeping position when your neck is already stiff and painful.

COVID-19 Information: 

There has been recent news going around for patients who have contracted the COVID-19 virus, stating that sleeping face down can help open up airways (1, 2). This is true and has been routinely done for pneumonia or respiratory distress (ARDS) patients since the 90’s. If you know someone who has tested positive and is experiencing difficulty sleeping due to breathlessness, inform them to check with their doctor or nurse to see if frequent turning in bed may help. Watch more here.

Resources:

  1. Khan, S., Choudry, E., Mahmood, S. U., Mulla, A. Y., & Mehwish, S. (2020). Awake Proning: A Necessary Evil During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Cureus, 12(7), e8989. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8989
  2. “Lung Recruitability in SARS-CoV-2 Associated Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: A Single-center, Observational Study”. Chun Pan et al. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine doi:10.1164/rccm.202003-0527LE. Read at: https://neurosciencenews.com/covid-19-face-down-breathing-15984/.  
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