Straining your neck while exercising, lifting a heavy object, or performing some sort of physical activity makes sense, but if you find yourself waking up from a restful eight hours with a sore neck, your sleeping position could be to blame.
The way your spine – which includes the neck – is aligned while you’re laying down has a big effect on the way your neck feels; sleeping posture can either prevent, ease, or cause strain to the muscles and vertebrae in the neck, depending on how it’s used. An entire night spent with your neck twisted at an odd angle is a long time, and it can lead to pain that lingers throughout the day.
Many people sleep on their stomach, but this forces the head upward and to the side in a way that isn’t natural. It’s preferable to sleep on your side or back, but if you just can’t bring yourself to do that, make sure to use a flat, soft pillow – such as a feather pillow – so that your neck remains in as straight a line as possible.
Even if you do sleep on your side or back, proper support for your head is still essential to prevent or ease neck pain. Pillows stacked too high are also detrimental in this case, since keeping your head too elevated forces it forward (if you sleep on your back), or toward your shoulder (if you sleep on your side). Feather or memory foam pillows are good options, since both conform to the shape of head and neck while still providing support.
The ideal spinal alignment while sleeping is “neutral”, meaning everything from the neck to the tailbone remain in as straight a line as possible. To achieve this, side-sleepers should keep their neck higher than their head in order to align the spine correctly, so tucking a rolled, soft pillow under your neck can be helpful. Back-sleepers should use a slightly rounded pillow to support the head while also supporting the neck with a softer, rolled-up pillow; you can also find a cervical pillow that mimics the curves of the head and neck.
A crook in the neck from your sleep position can soon lead to shoulder pain, and affect your daily life. Experiment with different pillows and postures to find the ones that provide the most support in easing neck pain.