The Essential Checklist For Sleeping With Neck And Back Pain

The Essential Checklist For Sleeping With Neck And Back Pain

Sleeping can be tricky with neck and back pain

You might not feel comfortable in your usual sleeping position and you may end up with worse pain in the morning. This could be because you are sleeping on the wrong pillow or mattress.

Can good sleeping habits improve neck and back pain?

Your body does heal itself while you sleep, and you can maximize this healing power by improving the bad sleeping habits that put pressure on your neck and back.

If you’re waking up stiff and sore it is likely because you have bad sleeping habits which are making your neck and back pain worse.

Here’s how you can minimize neck and back pain with some important adjustments to your sleep 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 myth people without back pain always sleep 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.

At the other extreme if your mattress is too soft, you won’t have the support needed for your muscles and other soft tissues.

The best mattress should generally be medium-firm.

Research in the medical journal Lancet found that people with lower back pain who slept on medium-firm mattresses experienced less pain in the morning and throughout the day when compared to those who slept on firm mattresses.

Choose Memory Foam That Stays Cool

Another option is a memory foam mattress that molds to your body’s curves, offering greater support.

It’s a good idea to get one that has a cooling gel layer on top to help keep the mattress and your spine cool.

How does this prevent and relieve neck and back pain?

If you feel hot and uncomfortable, you will be tossing and turning throughout the night, which will disrupt your quality of sleep.

And low quality or quantity of sleep can worsen the kind of pain you experience, causing a vicious cycle of insomnia and pain.

Consider A Latex Mattress

Latex is another mattress material that will keep you cool throughout the night and 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 to reduce the pressure you feel on your spine.

This also helps keep your spine in alignment while you sleep. In addition, latex is a cool material that 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 the support you need.

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 more 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 your bed at home, whether that’s on your side or back.

Some manufacturers or stores will even let you have a trial with the mattress at home. If they do take advantage of that and try the mattress our before you commit to buying.

This will help you know if the mattress is worth investing your money and sleep on.

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 can you do then to reduce back pain related sleeping problems?

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

These mattresses are split, so you can actually adjust both sides, 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 and worsen your pain.

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 can also be your pillows.

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

Here are some important tips for choosing the right pillows so that your neck and body get the support you need at 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 filled with feathers.

This is because it molds to the shape of your neck. This type of pillow is both supportive and comfortable.

The drawback of feather pillows is that you have to replace them annually because they tend to flatten over a short period of time.

Buy a cervical pillow

Cervical pillows have 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 which is good for both your neck and back.

A cervical pillow has an indentation in the middle where you rest your head and is 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 the stuffing when you feel you need more or less support.

This is valuable if your 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 your natural sleeping position may be more comfortable for you, it could be doing harm to your neck and back.

Since we spend about one-third of our lives asleep, poor sleeping position can have a seriously negative effect on our bodies and health over time.

And 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 for you.

  • 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 and neck curved. This awkward angle is a no-no if you’re experiencing back or neck pain.
  • If you have pain, sleep on your back or side. If you naturally sleep on your back, you should use a rounded pillow under your back to offer support and a flat pillow to provide comfort for your head. If you prefer to sleep on your side, you need a thicker pillow so 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 most important thing you can do is choose a pillow that provides support for your neck and back.

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

For some people sleeping without a pillow is actually more comfortable to prevent unnatural curvature of the spine.

While that might sound uncomfortable, it works because it helps to extend your back allows you to sleep in a more natural position without putting extra pressure on your neck. That extra pressure can have a domino-like effect of pain radiating 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.

If you sleep on your side, invest in a firmer pillow that’s thick enough to support your neck without leaving a gap underneath it.

If your neck isn’t supported you end up sleeping at 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 your ear.

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

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

Also make sure that your pillow is firm enough to support your neck 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

You can choose the right pillow for your sleep style and a mattress that feels good but can still encounter the problem of them not working together to make your sleep comfortable. What gives?

The problem may be 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 create too much hardness.

If you prefer a firm mattress you need to use a softer pillow that will balance it out and provide a bit of comfort beneath the support.

On the other hand, if you have a softer mattress because it feels more 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 frequently wake up with aches all over your body.

So, striking the right balance between comfort and support is important.

What To Do If You’re Still Experiencing Pain

Sometimes, despite your best efforts and planning, you will still wake up with back or neck pain.

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

It’s a good idea to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing significant pain or to visit a physical therapist who can teach you stretches to reduce or eliminate your pain.

Your problem also may be that your spinal muscles are weak, so strengthening exercises can also be helpful.

It’s interesting to note that stiffness in the neck can come from poor posture that leads to weakness over time.

Although you might think you’ve wasted money buying a new mattress and pillow, the truth is they are an investment in yourself that can prevent 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 that is affecting us.

To deal with these sleep distractions, follow these tips:

  • Wear earplugs or use a white noise machine to ensure your bedroom is quiet and peaceful.
  • Maintain a cool temperature in your bedroom. This is important to prevent getting overheated and uncomfortable, which can cause restless sleep. Wear light clothing to bed and invest in memory-foam pillows with gel top layers that won’t cause you to sweat while asleep.
  • Use thick blackout curtains or blinds on your windows to shut out distracting outside light.

Treat Underlying Medical Conditions

Sometimes you’re restless or havedifficulty sleeping because of an underlying health condition. These can include restless leg syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or many others conditions.

Consult with your primary care doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing to get to the bottom of what’s interrupting your sleep.

Rest Before Bedtime

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

It takes your body some time to wind down before bedtime, so you should set aside at least an hour to relax before hitting the sack at night.

During this time, do relaxation exercises such as yoga or meditation, have a warm bath to help you vasodilate, and avoid using electronic devices. Blue light impacts your body’s melatonin production which is crucial for quality sleep.

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 turned off, this can cause distractions that keep you up throughout the night.

And staring at your phone too much before bedtime can also result in poor quality sleep. It’s a good idea to turn your phone off completely and keep it outside your bedroom overnight.

How Long Should You Sleep At Night?

Sleeping In Bed

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

Research reported by the National Sleep Foundation showed that people who rate their health as good sleep 18 to 23 minutes more than those who rate their health as poor or fair.

If you don’t get enough sleep it inhibits the body’s ability to heal leading to more aches and pains.

Now that you’ve got the right mattress and pillow to relieve your pain, consider how much sleep you need each night.

Sleep should be kept in moderation, just like all lifestyle habits.

Unfortunately sleeping too much every night can actually worsen – not improve – your neck and back pain!

Oversleeping is described as sleeping for more than 10 hours in a night.

While you might think sleeping a lot can will help your pain, too much sleep can actually backfire.

This is because lying in one position for an extended period during sleep can lead to stiff joints and tight muscles.

Physicians usually recommend movement to relieve pain so too much rest may not be 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? For most people eight to nine hours per night is optimal.

So either over or under sleeping can be associated with poor health conditions and concerns.

However, if you’re getting between seven and nine hours of sleep even just 15 to 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 but you wake up feeling sore and stiff.

What’s the cause of this?

The fact is that chronic back pain tends to be worse in the morning and acute attacks of back pain are also most likely to occur first thing in the morning.

Common reasons for flare ups of back pain first thing in the morning include: 

  • Inflammatory back pain, which can be from an autoimmune disease, often has exacerbations that are worse in the morning. Morning inflammation tends to get worse as we age.
  • Bad sleeping patterns. Sleeping in an awkward position is the most common culprit for acute morning back pain. If you get into the habit of sleeping in awkward positions, over time this can starve your tissues of oxygen. And 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 many similar causes.

  • 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 can cause your neck to sink down into the mattress.
  • Having unhealthy posture throughout the day. This can result in pressure being placed on your spine such as working for too long at a computer or slouching at your desk. Bad posture strains the ligaments and muscles that support the neck and can show up the next day. Over time, this leads to injury and pain.

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.

These natural curves are how the spine is meant to move, When your spine is in a  neutral position you have strength and balance which reduces discomfort.

Is back pain at night a red flag?

Nocturnal back pain can point to various serious conditions, such as disc degeneration, fractures, kidney stones, endometriosis, and even cancer.

Some types of arthritis can lead to nocturnal back pain or pain when resting. Night pain that does not improve within a few weeks should be checked by your physician.


If you suffer from neck and back pain, there are many things you can do to get quality sleep and improve your pain with restful hours.

The most important things you can do include choosing the right mattress and pillow for your needs, having healthy bedtime rituals to enhance the quality of your sleep and prevent restlessness, and ensuring that you don’t over or under sleep each night.

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 your pain.

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