How To Sleep With a Neck Strain: Tips & Tricks

Written by: Andjela Kastratovic
Updated: 02/01/2023

Painful joints lead to bad sleep, which leads to painful joints, which leads to, well, you get the picture. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s hard to sleep with neck pain, but there are things that can help. 

Want to get rid of your stiff neck? Let’s get into it!

What Causes Neck Pain During Sleep?

Neck pain is a very common problem that affects between 10 and 20% of adults in some way. For some people, it becomes chronic

It is often caused by a physical strain during sleep, as well as arthritis and other health problems. Morning pain in your neck is most likely due to sleeping at an awkward angle, sudden neck muscle activity, or even the late effects of an injury. 

It can exist on its own, but it could also be a part of neck and shoulder pain.

Sleeping Positions and Neck Pain

No matter the sleep position, you need proper spinal alignment. Here’s how sleeping positions can relate to your stiff neck. 

Back Sleeping

Sleeping on your back is one of the most comfortable sleep positions for keeping your cervical spine and neck aligned. As long as you use the right mattress and pillow, the natural curves will be supported. 

Back sleepers can also keep their necks in a neutral position fairly easily. If the head isn’t held straight or if the pillow is too high or too low, neck pain can develop. It’s a good position for both neck and shoulder pain.

However, back sleeping is bad if you snore or suffer from sleep apnea

Side Sleeping

Sleeping on your side is also one of the most common sleep positions, but it does make it a bit harder to keep your spine aligned. 

To handle the hips and shoulders, you’ll need a mattress that provides the right combination of support and comfort. Maintaining a neutral neck position is easy with a pillow that’s high enough and supports the neck. 

Side sleepers can develop neck and shoulder pain from this position.

Stomach Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach is less common, but it’s the worst sleeping position for your neck because your head is always turned at an angle. 

Avoid sleeping on your stomach if you have neck discomfort. Changing preferred sleeping positions is hard, but not impossible. Stomach sleepers can try to sleep on their back or side and put extra pillows around them to limit movement. 

Best Way To Sleep With Neck Pain

When you have stiff neck muscles, you need to do more than just sleep on your back or side.

Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is probably the best sleep position for a sore neck. 

Use a thin pillow to prevent and relieve neck pain. You can try using a cervical pillow that follows the natural curve of the spine. 

Make sure you’re also sleeping on a supportive mattress that keeps your spine aligned, and put an extra pillow under your knees. This position can also help with neck and shoulder pain.

Sleeping on Your Side

Make sure that the pillow you’re using keeps your head straight and your chin neutral without leaning too much to the left or right. It should support your neck without being too high or too low. You could use a high cervical pillow or a rolled towel for this. 

The perfect mattress for side sleepers should be supportive and soft enough. Put a pillow between your knees for help with sleep posture.

If you have neck and shoulder pain and stiffness from this position, try sleeping on the opposite side or back.

Sleeping Upright

Sleeping upright has proven to help many people with neck or back pain. It’s one of the best sleeping positions for pregnant women to reduce neck pain, and it can help to use a pillow for the lower back and a horseshoe-shaped pillow for the neck.

Choosing the Right Mattress

Having a good mattress also contributes a lot to healthy sleep and neck relief. And if you want to find a good mattress to deal with neck pain, you need to look for one with the right levels of support and comfort. 

Support is a crucial mattress feature because it keeps your spine aligned. If your mattress doesn’t do that, you’ll end up in more pain. 

Next up is comfort. When it comes to neck stiffness, you need to watch out for two things – mattress firmness and pressure relief. 

A firm mattress could help reduce neck pain, but make sure it’s not too firm. The perfect firmness depends on your preferences, sleep position, and weight. Check out our mattress firmness guide to find out more!

And finally, look for a mattress with good pressure relief, because this will ease the burden on your neck. Memory foam or latex mattresses are the best for this.

Extra Tips and Tricks for Sleeping With Neck Pain

Here are some extra tips that can help. 


Regularly stretching your neck, shoulders, and back can help you with existing strains, but it can also prevent new ones. Use gentle exercises and light stretches on your sore shoulder, neck, and shoulder blades, but don’t overdo it if you’re already in pain. 

Good Posture

It’s not just about a good sleeping position; poor posture is also harmful. Make sure to keep your spine straight with your head forward and don’t stay in the same position too long. All of the screens you look at should be at eye level. 

Find the Right Pillow

A thinner pillow is the way to go for back sleepers, and side sleepers need a higher one. Besides height, the material also matters, and we suggest trying a memory foam or a feather pillow in this situation. 

If you suffer from chronic neck pain, you could also go for a pillow specifically designed for neck pain. 

A horseshoe-shaped pillow or a cervical one can be very comfortable and give the right neck support, especially if you’re sleeping on your back or in an upright position. 

Use Your Pillows Creatively

Put them under your knees when sleeping on your back, between your knees when sleeping on your side, and around you when you’re trying to change your sleeping position. 

You can also use a rolled towel under your neck.

Neck Brace

A neck brace can be helpful if you suffer from a stiff neck. You can wear it when you go to sleep to limit movement, but know that wearing it too much can prolong healing

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

If you don’t sleep well overall, you’re bound to develop some joint pain and stiffness, be it in your back or neck and shoulder. Non restorative sleep harms your body.  

Heat and Ice

Therapy with heat and ice can help a stiff neck. Try applying an ice pack or a heating pad for pain relief. 


Finally, if the pain keeps going, it might be time to get an over-the-counter pain medication or maybe even consult with a medical professional, like a physical therapist. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain?

The best sleeping positions for this are either to sleep on your back or side. Sleeping on your stomach puts your neck in an unnatural position, so you should avoid sleeping this way.

Should I Visit My Doctor for Neck Pain?

You should definitely go to your doctor if neck pain continues for more than a week, doesn’t go away with stretching and basic care, is the result of an injury, or shows up out of nowhere. You might need physical therapy or chiropractic treatment to reduce stiffness.

What Is the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?

The best pillow for neck pain is the one that keeps your head in a neutral position. A thin pillow is the way to go for back sleepers with a painful neck, while side sleepers need a higher one. Cervical pillows and horseshoe-shaped ones can help, and memory foam and feathers are good materials. 

Final Thoughts

Having a stiff neck can really affect your sleep quality and overall health. There are ways to prevent stiffness and help with it, but if it gets too much, you’ll need to get in touch with physical therapists.

We hope that this article will help you learn how to prevent neck pain and sleep with it if it happens either way. 

Have a good night’s sleep!

Reviews written by:

Andjela Kastratovic - Co-editor

Anđela is a content writer by the day and an Illustrator by night. She loves anything creative, but sleep takes the cake – that’s why she enjoys writing for Anatomy of Sleep so much!

While in high school, she got accepted for her dream job – a ‘professional sleeper’. Her job was to test new mattresses from a local mattress brand and write reports on the quality of sleep. Ever since then, she’s been in love with reviewing mattresses and putting her compelling research into ultimate buyer’s guides. While not exploring the latest brands, she likes to illustrate and spend time with her dog and friends.