Neck Pain After Sleeping

by LMatthews on September 24, 2012



neck pain after sleeping pillow choice

Proper pillow selection is just one way of reducing the risk of neck pain after sleeping.

Many cases of cervicalgia occur after sleeping and waking with neck pain can really put you in a bad mood and lead to further stress and neck pain. Breaking the vicious cycle means working out the cause of your neck pain, be it your pillow, the open window in the bedroom, alcohol consumption or a spine condition, infection or other physical illness.

Adult, Acquired Torticollis

Waking with neck pain after sleeping can mean that it is painful to turn your head, that the neck is stiff and perhaps even that your posture has changed slightly. Where the neck is tilted to one side this is referred to as acquired torticollis (wry neck), which can also occur as a congenital condition that may require neck surgery in extreme cases. Adult acquired torticollis is usually able to be treated conservatively, however, as the cause is not congenitally shortened musculature in one side of the neck but, rather, an acute problem with the musculoskeletal system.

Why Does Your Neck Hurt After Sleeping?


Several factors can contribute to neck pain after sleeping, including:

  • sleeping in a draught
  • sleeping in an awkward position
  • alcohol consumption
  • unusual activity or exertion the day previously
  • poor quality mattress or pillow

As the nights get cooler many more people will be closing windows in the bedroom but where windows are left open for air circulation it can mean that neck muscles become tense and stiff, leading to neck pain after sleeping. Repositioning furniture or screens to avoid direct draughts can help.

Sleeping Positions, Alcohol, and Neck Pain

Awkward sleeping positions and alcohol are often related as alcohol may help you fall asleep but affects the natural movement of the body whilst sleeping. It is normal to change positions several times during the night, with this helping to avoid strain on certain muscles. Where over-tiredness or alcohol are involved it may be that someone sleeps in the same position for several hours, waking with a crick in the neck. This is especially true when people sleep on their stomach with their head turned to the left or right. Sleeping without a pillow, or with a shallow pillow is also liable to cause neck pain and stiffness the next day as the neck is tilted too acutely into the mattress, thus stretching the ligaments and muscles on the opposite side of the neck. Sleeping on your back is usually a good option but care must be taken not to have too much cushioning behind the head to cause over-flexion.

When Sleep is Not the Culprit

A key culprit for neck pain after sleeping is not actually the sleep quality itself but an activity engaged in the day before. This may not have triggered neck pain at the time but the muscles may have stiffened up and become sore overnight, once the activity has been forgotten. Prime examples include gardening, slouching in front of the television, craning your neck at the movies, or even moving house or starting a new class at the gym. Many things that seem inconsequential at the time can cause neck pain when you wake the next day, making it important to warm up and warm down from exercise and maintain healthy postural habits throughout the day.

Causes of Chronic Neck Pain After Sleeping

Those who regularly suffer from torticollis and neck pain after sleeping may wish to consult their doctor and/or chiropractor to see if there is an underlying spine condition at work. Facet joint disease, disc bulging or herniation, cervical spine arthritis, or other mechanical problems could be at the root of the pain. Where facet joints become jammed or locked, or where a problem in the spine is creating instability, the muscles and ligaments often overcompensate by becoming tense, stiff and calcified, and new bone may even develop as bone spurs to try to restore stability. Swelling and inflammation in the neck can also arise as a way of restricting damaging movements through hyperflexibility. Using anti-inflammatories and pain relief medications may help in the short term in such cases but the problem will likely persist unless the underlying cause is dealt with effectively.

Treating Neck Pain After Sleeping

Other options for treating neck pain after sleeping include epidural steroid injections, physical therapy, and even neuromuscular re-education to increase range of motion. Chiropractic treatment may help but only if the range of motion is also increased through physical therapy, otherwise the adjustments will likely be resisted by the body as it tries to protect itself from whatever is triggering the neck pain in the first place. An isolated trigger may mean that neck pain after sleeping dissipates within a few days to a week. Where the cause persists, such as a draught or poor pillow, the neck pain will also continue in most cases.

Neck Pain Diagnosis

Extreme neck pain or stiffness should always prompt a visit to the doctors’ office, especially if there is accompanying nausea, fever or a rash which could indicate meningitis. It is also possible that adult acquired torticollis is a result of spinal tumors, fracture or other condition but most cases are simply due to sleeping using the wrong type of pillow. It might seem odd to consider a pillow an investment but when you think about the cost of pain medication, time away from work and the number of opportunities missed due to neck pain after sleeping that reticence could very well disappear.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike October 31, 2012 at 10:47 am

Thanks a lot for your info and advice. I did have a stiff neck almost every single morning and was trapped in that vicious cycle as it made me grumpy at work the rest of the day. I did not know the consumption of alcohol could contribute to the problem. I purchased a memory foam mattress and pillow and my neck has greatly improved, so i agree support is definatley the factor that needs to be addressed in my case.

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