Can changing my sleep habits help with neck pain?

Ask the doctors

Q. I often wake up with a sore neck in the morning. What can I do to prevent this?

A. Poor sleep habits can cause neck pain or make it worse. Simple changes can make it less likely that you will wake up in pain in the morning.

First: if you sleep on your stomach, try a new sleep position. Stomach sleeping forces the head to one side and puts pressure on your neck. Experts say that sleeping on your back or your side puts less strain on your neck.

Second: make sure you've got a good pillow. Skip pillows that are stiff or too thick, which can put your neck into an uncomfortable position. Ideally you should find a pillow that is soft and on the flatter side. You might want to try out memory foam or down options, which mold to the shape of your head and neck.

Also, focus on establishing good sleep habits. There is some evidence that it's not just sleep position but also sleep quality that is linked to neck pain. One study, for example, found that people who experienced sleep problems were more likely to report chronic musculoskeletal pain, including neck pain, than those who slept soundly through the night. Practices such as sleeping in a cool, dark room and going to bed and waking at the same time each day can help you get a better night's rest.

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Toni Golen, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

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