The Essential Checklist For Sleeping With Neck And Back Pain

The Essential Checklist For Sleeping With Neck And Back Pain

When you have neck and back pain, sleeping becomes tricky.

You might not feel comfortable in your usual sleeping position, or perhaps you’ll discover that you feel worse after sleeping, which could point to the fact that you’re sleeping on the wrong pillow or mattress.

Can sleeping heal neck and back pain?

Your body does heal itself while you sleep, and you can maximize this healing power by making sure you don’t have bad sleeping habits that can be putting pressure on your neck and back.

If you’re waking up stiff and sore, your sleeping habits are probably to blame – and they could be making your neck and back pain worse.

Here’s how you can minimize neck and back pain by making some important adjustments to your sleeping routine.

Back Pain Sleeping

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Choose The Right Mattress

One of the most important things you can do for yourself if you suffer from neck and back pain is to get a more supportive mattress.

If your mattress is old, it can lack support and lead to pain in the body.

Interestingly, when it comes to back pain specifically, a study that was conducted by Oklahoma State University found that when people replaced their mattresses every five years, they experienced significantly less back pain.

While you should always choose the mattress that’s most comfortable for you, there are other important guidelines to follow when purchasing a new mattress so that you enhance your sleep and reduce your pain.

Consider A Medium-Firm Mattress

Man Choosing Mattress

It’s a total myth that everyone who doesn’t have back pain sleeps on a very firm mattress.

The truth is that if your mattress is too hard, it can be uncomfortable and put too much pressure on your spine.

That said, if your mattress is too soft, you won’t get the right support for your muscles.

The best mattress should be medium-firm.

Research has found that people with lower back pain who slept on medium-firm mattresses experienced less pain when compared to people who were sleeping on firm mattresses, and they even experienced less pain throughout the day, as reported by Lancet.

Choose Memory Foam That Stays Cool

If you want to sleep on a memory foam mattress, this can be beneficial because it molds to your body’s curves, offering greater support.

But, it’s a good idea to get one that has a cooling gel layer on top. This helps to keep the mattress cool.

How does this relate to preventing and relieving neck and back pain?

Well, if you feel hot and uncomfortable, you’re going to be tossing and turning a lot in bed, which will disrupt your quality of sleep.

As reported by Women’s Health, if you’re running low on sleep, this will worsen any kind of pain you’re experiencing, thus causing a vicious cycle of insomnia and pain.

Consider A Latex Mattress

Here’s another mattress material that will keep you cool throughout the night – one that’s made of latex. However, a latex mattress can also be useful for preventing backaches and pain.

Natural latex is a bouncy material that offers firmness as well as comfort. Best of all, it cradles the body and supports the back so that pressure is eliminated.

This also means that your spine will be aligned while you sleep. In addition, latex doesn’t make you feel hot, such as by trapping body sweat.

This results in better-quality sleep that can help your muscles to heal.

Always Test It Before You Buy It!

Woman Trying Mattress

Sitting on a mattress for three seconds at the store before you decide to buy it isn’t enough to make sure you’re getting a supportive mattress.

The same goes for reading mattress reviews online. You should always test the mattress yourself, especially if you’re looking for one to reduce your back or neck pain.

After all, different people will find different types of mattresses most comfortable and supportive.

In the store, make sure you lie on the mattress for at least 10 minutes and try lying on it in the way that you normally sleep in the bed, whether that’s on your side or back.

This will help to show you in better detail if the mattress is worth spending money on or not.

What To Do If Your Partner Wants A Different Mattress?

If your partner doesn’t want the same mattress you do, perhaps because they want something firmer or softer, this can cause problems.

What are you supposed to do to reduce back pain sleeping problems?

If you and your partner don’t want to sleep in different beds, you can choose a customizable mattress.

How this works is that the bed is split, so you get two different mattresses, depending on your preferences.

The extra bonus of the split bed is that you don’t have to worry about feeling every movement that your partner makes during the night, which can interrupt your sleep or even cause you pain in your neck and back if their movements are quite pronounced. 

Use The Right Pillows

Neck Pain Pillows

If you’re experiencing regular neck or back pain, it’s not just your mattress that can be making you feel worse – it’s also your pillows.

In fact, if you’ve got a supportive mattress but your pillows aren’t comfortable enough, that can cause you problems.

Here are some important tips for choosing the right pillows so that your neck and body get the right support during the night.

Avoid a pillow that’s too stiff

If your pillow feels too hard to sleep on, this makes your neck tense up and that can lead to stiffness in your neck the next day.

In addition, if a pillow is too stiff, it can cause your neck to be too elevated during sleep, which puts a strain on it.

You might wake up feeling pain down the side of your neck that makes it hard to move.

Use a feather pillow

One of the best pillows you can use for your neck is one that’s filled with feathers.

This is because it molds to the shape of your neck, as Harvard Health Publishing reports. This type of pillow is both supportive and comfortable.

However, the drawback of feather pillows is that you have to replace them annually because they tend to flatten quite quickly over short periods of time.

Buy a cervical pillow

This is a type of pillow that has become quite popular when it comes to reducing neck pain.

A cervical, or chiropractic, pillow supports your neck so that your spine maintains its natural shape, so it’s good for both your neck and back.

How it works is that a cervical pillow has an indentation in the middle for where you rest your head and then it’s typically puffier and fuller around that indentation, offering support to your neck, shoulders, and back.

You can also find cervical pillows that have adjustable fillers, so you can add or remove their stuffing when you feel you need more or less support.

This is valuable if you’re the type of person whose sleeping requirements change regularly.

What’s The Best Sleeping Position For Neck And Back Pain?

Woman Sleeping On Side

What position do you sleep in every night?

While it might be the most comfortable for you, it could be doing your neck and back a disservice.

Since we spend one-third of our lives sleeping if we’re sleeping in a position that hurts our muscles, that can have disastrous effects on our bodies and health over time.

In addition, if you’re already experiencing back or neck pain, sleeping in the wrong position can exacerbate it.

Here’s how to choose the right sleeping position.

  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach. This is a position that’s really tough on your spine because it causes you to sleep with your back curved and your neck curved. This awkward angle can also put pressure on your neck, so it’s a no-no whether you’re experiencing back or neck pain.
  • If you have pain, sleep on your back or side. If you like to sleep on your back, you should use a rounded pillow that will offer support as well as a flat pillow that can be used to provide comfort for your head, as Harvard Health Publishing reports. If you prefer to sleep on your side, you’ll need a thicker pillow so that your head and neck are supported and positioned in the middle of your shoulders. You would also benefit from placing a thin pillow between your knees so that your spine remains properly aligned.

Choosing The Right Pillow For Your Specific Sleep Position

If you can’t change your sleeping position because anything else just feels uncomfortable, the important thing is to choose the right pillow so that you’ll be more supported in your neck and back.

If you sleep on your stomach, it’s important to choose a pillow that is soft.

Or, you might find that not sleeping with a pillow is actually the most comfortable to prevent curvature of the spine.

While that might sound uncomfortable, it works because it helps to extend your back and you will be sleeping in a more natural position without putting the extra pressure on your neck that can have a domino-like effect of pain into your back and other parts of the body.

It’s a good idea to place a pillow underneath your stomach to help your spine remain aligned and prevent back pain as well as stiffness from sleeping in an awkward position.

If you sleep on your side, you need to invest in a firmer pillow that’s thick enough to support your neck instead of leaving a gap underneath it.

If your neck isn’t supported, it can lead you to sleep in an uncomfortable angle that strains the muscles and ligaments in the neck.

A good tip is to buy a pillow that’s as thick as the distance between your outside shoulder and ear, as The Sleep Doctor advises.

If you sleep on your back, you should avoid having a pillow that’s too thick and puffy as this will make your neck lie at an angle, causing pain.

Choose a flatter pillow that will better align your neck and head.

Also make sure that the pillow is firm enough to support your neck, such as by choosing a memory foam pillow that will shape itself around your neck.

Your Mattress And Pillow Need To Work Together

Orthopedic Mattress And Pillow

If you get the right pillow for your sleep style and a mattress that feels good, you might encounter the problem of them not working together to make your sleep comfortable. What gives?

The problem here is that your pillow and mattress might not be compatible.

That might sound strange, but it basically means that if you’ve bought a firm mattress, sleeping with a firm pillow might be too much hardness.

You need to use a softer pillow that will balance it out and provide a bit of comfort to the support being offered by the mattress.

On the other hand, if you have a softer mattress because it feels most comfortable to you, you should invest in a firm pillow so that you have enough support and can properly align your head and neck.

If you choose a pillow that’s too soft and you’re sleeping on a soft mattress, this can make you feel like you’re sinking into the pillow and mattress.

There’s just not enough support and you might wake up with aches all over your body.

So, striking a good balance between comfort and support is important.

What To Do If You’re Still Experiencing Pain

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’re still waking up with back or neck pain.

This can point to a deeper injury or condition that’s causing the pain.

A good idea is to consult with your doctor about the pain you’re experiencing or visit a physical therapist who’ll be able to help you learn stretches and exercises that can reduce and perhaps even completely eliminate your pain.

Your muscles might also be weak, which is what’s causing the stiffness or pain, so they’ll be able to help you with that.

It’s interesting to note that stiffness can arise in the neck from poor posture or misuse that ends up weakening the muscles over time, as Cleveland Clinic reports.

Although you might think you’ve wasted money buying a new mattress and pillow, the truth is that they will prevent the pain from reoccurring.

How To Stop Tossing And Turning During Sleep

If you toss and turn a lot during sleep, this can cause you to jerk your neck and end up in a position that’s not good to prevent aches and pains.

It’s not always easy to remain in the same position in which you went to bed, but you can decrease your tossing and turning with these tips so that you get a restful sleep.

Prevent Distractions

Sometimes we become restless during sleep because there’s too much noise or light in the room and it’s affecting us.

To deal with these sleep distractions, you should follow tips such as:

  • Wearing earplugs or using a white noise machine to ensure your bedroom is quiet and peaceful.
  • Maintaining a cool temperature in your bedroom. This is important to prevent you from getting too hot and uncomfortable during sleep, which can cause you to have more restless sleep. Wear light clothing to bed and invest in memory-foam pillows with gel top layers that won’t cause you to sweat during sleep.
  • Use thick curtains or blinds on your windows to shut out the distracting light from outside.

Treat Underlying Medical Conditions

Sometimes you’re feeling restless or battling to sleep because of an underlying health condition. These can include restless leg syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or many others.

By consulting with your doctor about any other symptoms you could be experiencing, you can get to the bottom of what’s interrupting your sleep at night.

Rest Before Bedtime

It’s not a good idea to be very active right up until bedtime and then expect to have a peaceful, uninterrupted sleep.

It takes your body some time to wind down before bedtime, so you should ensure relaxation time before hitting the sack at night.

During this time, do relaxation exercises such as yoga or meditation, have a warm bath and avoid using electronic devices.

Research that was conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 83 percent of millennials go to bed with their phones next to them.

If your phone’s not off, this can cause many distractions that can keep you up throughout the night.

In addition, staring at your phone too much before bedtime can also result in poor quality sleep.

This is due to its blue light that can get in the way of sleep and even make you feel sluggish the next day. 

How Long Should You Sleep At Night?

Sleeping In Bed

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for tackling pain.

Research has found that when people say that they have good health their sleep patterns show that they have 18 to 23 minutes more sleep than people who rate their health as poor, fair, or even good, as the National Sleep Foundation reports.

If you don’t get enough sleep every night, this can inhibit the body’s ability to heal, which means you’re more likely to get aches and pains.

Now that you’ve got the right mattress and pillow to give you pain relief, you should consider how long you should sleep every night as this can affect your pain levels.

While sleeping is important because it heals the body, you should always keep it in moderation, just like with other lifestyle habits.

The sad but true fact is that sleeping too much every night can actually worsen – not improve – your neck and back pain!

Oversleeping can be described as sleeping for more than 10 hours at night, and it’s simply too much.

While you might think to sleep a lot can help your body to heal its pain, too much of it can actually backfire.

This is because you’re lying in one position for an extended period of time during sleep and you’re not moving around much.

If you consider that doctors usually recommend movement to heal pain, then it makes sense why sleeping too much won’t do you any good!

In addition, when you avoid oversleeping, this will help you have better quality sleep on a regular basis.

So, how much sleep should you get?

Aim for about eight hours of sleep every night, and try not to go over that limit.

As the National Sleep Foundation reports, if you sleep for extremely long or short periods of time, these can be associated with health conditions and concerns.

However, if you’re getting between seven and nine hours of sleep (which is considered to be the recommended amount), even just 15 or 30 minutes more sleep can make a difference in how much better you feel.

Why Are You Waking Up With Neck Or Back Pain?

Woman Holding For Neck

Sometimes neck or back pain can come on suddenly.

You might not have had it when you went to bed the previous night, only to wake up and feel sore and stiff.

What’s the cause of this?

The fact is that chronic back pain tends to be worse in the morning and an attack of acute back pain is also most likely to occur first thing in the morning, as reported by Pain Science.

There are common reasons for neck and back pain first thing in the morning. When it comes to backs, these include: 

  • Inflammatory back pain, which can be from an autoimmune disease. This can also include what is known as “inflammation,” which is a slow increase in chronic but mild inflammation as we get older, as Pain Science reports.
  • Bad sleeping patterns. If you slept in an awkward position, this is the most common culprit for experiencing back pain when you get up in the morning. If you get into the habit of sleeping in awkward positions, over time this can cause compression, pinching, and even starve your tissues of oxygen! Bear in mind, if you already have an injury or problem with your back, sleeping in an uncomfortable way that puts pressure on your back can just make the problem worse.

Waking up with neck pain has some similar causes. Let’s take a look at them.

  • Not sleeping in a comfortable position or moving a lot during sleep can strain your neck muscles without you realizing it until you wake up feeling sore and stiff.
  • Sleeping on a pillow that isn’t supportive enough, such as if it’s too hard, too high, or too low so that your neck sinks down into the mattress.
  • Having unhealthy posture throughout the day. This can result in pressure being placed on your neck and back, such as while working too long at a computer or slouching in your desk. The reason why this shows up the next day as neck pain is because bad posture strains the ligaments and muscles that support the neck. Over time, this leads to injury.

Related questions

What is the “neutral” position of the spine and why is it important?

A neutral spine means the spine is in its natural position – all three of its curves are aligned.

This is actually the spinal position from which we are meant to move, as Very Well Health reports.

When your spine’s neutral, you should have strength while reducing pain and discomfort.

Is back pain at night a red flag?

Nocturnal back pain can point to various conditions, such as disc degeneration, injuries such as fractures, and diseases such as a curvature of the spine (scoliosis), kidney stones, endometriosis, and some cancers.

Even some types of arthritis can lead to nocturnal back pain or pain when resting.


If you suffer from neck and back pain, there are many things you can do to ensure that you get quality sleep and heal your pain during the restful hours.

The most important things you can do include choosing the right mattress for your needs, choosing the right pillow, having healthy bedtime rituals in place to enhance the quality of sleep and prevent restlessness, and not sleeping for too many hours every night as that can just make your pain worse.

By following our guide to sleeping with neck and back pain, you’ll be on your way to getting a good night’s sleep and saying goodnight to pain.

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