How to ease a stiff neck and the 1 thing you need to sleep well all night!

Mar 23, 2022

If you are not sleeping because of a stiff neck or neck pain, your day is harder and it could be slowing your recovery. 

Neck pain or a stiff neck when you wake up is very common particularly as we get older.  Our lifestyle and occupation often contribute to the postures and positions we hold our neck in and this contributes to the cause of neck pain.  Once neck pain has developed it often impacts the quality of our sleep.  It’s difficult to get comfortable and we try changing position frequently. Often this lack of sleep then impacts our recovery as sleep is when our body heals and if we are unable to sleep this makes us more tired, more irritable and more stressed. This in turn impacts on our pain levels, mood, decision making, nutritional choices and comfort throughout the day.

Who doesn’t crave more sugar when they are tired?  Who wants to exercise and perform their rehab when they are tired? From experience, not many!  Neck pain or a stiff neck can be very frustrating and that’s before we even consider headaches and pain referred into the arm which is common with neck complaints.

People who sleep on the front, have particular difficulty sleeping and this position is not recommended with neck pain or if you already have a stiff neck.  Side sleeping is often the best position for the neck to recover, but only when properly supported.  Too much support or too little will place your neck at an angle that will inevitable lead to pain or stiffness and waken you until the issue is resolved. The level of support is often different for each individual.  This is based mainly on our size.

One of the best and fastest solutions to this problem is having a pillow that provides you with the right level of support.  We recommend a pillow that you can adjust the height, firmness and apply your own preference to.  This will allow a better recovery, a faster recovery and supports your physiotherapy treatment which will resolve the underlying issue or help provide you with a longer term solution if the neck pain issue is driven by arthritis or a long term condition.

Sleep helps our bodies heal, helps our immune system recover and reduces our stress levels and is important in preventing injury too.  Studies show sleep deprivation increases injury risk by up to 20%. 

Remember you spend a 33% of your life with your head on the pillow and it is the best investment you can make.

The right pillow could be the best thing for your current and future, physical and mental wellbeing.

Choosing the right pillow will:

  • Accelerate your recovery from neck pain or prevent a stiff neck from occurring.
  • Ensure you have a great nights sleep.
  • Improve your mood and energy.
  • Be completely modifiable to adapt to exactly the firmness, depth and comfort that you want.


Alignment is key.

Regardless of the position you choose to sleep in, keeping good alignment of your spine is vital. That means ensuring your ear, shoulder and hips are in a straight line with each other.  This helps prevent a stiff neck from occurring.

Your pillow should allow the head and neck to be in line with the rest of the body while sleeping. Your pillow should cradle your head and neck and help to support the upper portion of your spine.

If you sleep on your back your pillow should completely fill the space between your neck and the mattress, from the base of your skull to the top of your shoulders. If your pillow tilts your head down (eg. double chin) then it is too high or thick, and if your head tilts backwards then your pillow is too flat or thin.

If you sleep on your side the pillow must come down to touch the top of your shoulder so your entire neck is supported on the pillow. If the pillow is too thick or thin you will have your head tilting to the side. It is important that when sleeping on your side, that your spine mimics a straight line (table top) from the base of your skull to your bottom.

Which pillow should I use?

Back sleepers: You may do best with thinner pillows or with pillows that have extra padding in the bottom to support the neck. Memory foam is a good material that moulds specifically to your own neck. A water pillow is another option that gives firm, all- over support.

Stomach sleepers: You should aim to use the thinnest pillow possible or no pillow at all. In fact, if you like sleeping on your stomach, you may try sleeping on your side while holding a body pillow. The body pillow will give you the feeling of something against your stomach while helping to align the rest of your body.

Side sleepers: You may want to look for a firm pillow. Better yet, try to find one that has an extra-wide gusset that will help with the space between your ear and shoulder. And don’t forget to place a firm pillow between your knees.

Other tips to help alleviate neck pain or a stiff neck for a restful night.

Your mattress matters.

Ideally a mattress shouldn’t be more than 10 years old. If you are unable to purchase a new mattress, you can try to firm up an existing mattress by placing an inexpensive plywood board under it. Or you could soften a hard mattress by using a memory foam topper.

If you’re choosing a new one, try a medium or medium to firm mattress where possible.

Stage your sleep cycle. 

Set the stage for a good night’s rest by following these tips:

Regular sleep schedule – Go to sleep and wake up at the same  time every day, even on the weekends. 

Create an ideal sleep environment – Being comfortable will help your body give in to sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. 

Power down your devices – Computer and phone screens emit blue light that can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep. Limit your exposure to these devices in the last 2 hours before bed. 

Mind your lifestyle habits – Taking care of yourself during your waking hours will help your sleep. Caffeine, alcohol and vigorous exercise too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. 

Pain relief before bed – Before getting into bed do some gentle stretches prescribed by your therapist. The use of an ice pack or a heat pad may help reduce pain prior to bedtime. Relaxation techniques including deep breathing and body contract- relax techniques may help settle you before bed.  Meditation may also be helpful.

The ebook ‘5 common causes of neck pain (and what to do about them)’ gives you the tools you need to alleviate your sore and stiff neck, get a good night sleep and feel better every morning. It gives clear explanation about what causes neck pain and the things you can do to get back to full health. 

I’d just like to say how much I appreciated the treatment I have received from Steven. A few months ago I was plagued with neck and shoulder pain but in a few sessions he was able to give me a complete understanding of the underlying issues and exercises that mean I am now pain free. Great work. Very professional and pleasant manner. Absolutely recommend him to anyone looking for a physio.”

Andrew Mathieson, Lawyer from Eaglesham.

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