Has sleeping through the night become a pain in your neck?

  • Have you ever woken up at night with a headache, a crick in your neck, or just chronic neck pain? The reason may be due to faulty sleeping posture.  Follow these easy tips to wake up feeling refreshed, pain-free, and ready for your day.
  • As a general rule, your neck should always maintain an inward “c” shaped curve to reduce stress and tension on any of the soft tissue and joint structures.
  • Fortunately, an array of pillows are available to help maintain this natural position and reduce neck stress. However, pillows come in all shapes and sizes, and it is important to find one that will offer the best support based on your preferred sleep position.
  • While changing sleeping positions can greatly reduce neck pain, receiving skilled physical therapy for hands on treatment and exercise prescription, combined with sleeping position modification will have a more direct impact.
  • Research has shown that sleeping on your back is the best sleeping posture to decrease neck pain, followed by sleeping on your side. Sleeping on your stomach is not ideal for neck positioning, but may be your only option for a sound night of sleep. Here are some tips for positioning.
  • If you sleep on your back:

    • Utilize a thinner pillow with a rolled up towel placed under the neck to prevent the neck from being pushed forward. The rolled up towel can be placed underneath the pillowcase to stay put through the night.  Some pillows, usually called cervical or orthopedic pillows, provide good support as it consists of a raised portion for the neck and a more shallow area for the head.
    • You can also position your pillow so that it is underneath the shoulders as well as the head for optimal positioning.
    • Lower Back Tip: Pillows can also be placed underneath the knees to maintain proper positioning of the low back.


  • If you sleep on your side:

    • Use a thicker pillow so that your head can rest inline with the neck and the rest of your spine. Again, a rolled up towel or pillow with an elevated area for the neck are beneficial to decrease forces on the base of your head, which may cause headaches and even migraines.











IMG_3891 Lower Back Tip: Place a pillow between the knees to help the lower back stay healthy, too. This can be done with a full body pillow as shown above, or with a standard pillow.


  • If you sleep on your stomach:

    • This position ultimately increases strain on your neck, shoulders, and lower back, but if you absolutely must sleep on your stomach, follow these guidelines.
    • Use a thin, flat pillow for your head. You may position it in a way that just the forehead is resting on the pillow so the nose can point downward towards the mattress.  In this position, it may be best to not use a pillow at all so the head and neck are more aligned with the rest of the spine.
    • Lower Back Tip: A pillow should be placed under the hips or stomach to decrease low back pain.
    • Another better option for those who sleep on their stomachs is a full body pillow pictured below. The pillow can support half of your body into a more elevated position, allowing the neck to have a more natural position while mimicking sleeping fully on your stomach.


  • If sleeping while sitting on a plane or in the car:

    • A horseshoe shaped neck pillow is the best option to ensure that the neck is supported in all directions. This pillow should be small enough so the head is not pushed forward on the neck.


-The material of the pillow is another important thing to consider for your sleeping pattern. Feather pillows are easily mold-able and can provide support through the night in different positions if you are a restless or active sleeper.  Memory foam pillows conform to your natural curves and provide support for the neck and head.

-Just remember—there are many different shapes and sizes of pillows. Pick one that works the best for you to maintain a natural curve in your neck and to provide external support for the head while decreasing your pain.  It is equally as important to achieve a good night’s sleep for a successful day, so pick a sleeping position and pillow that allows for these maximum benefits!