Neck pain is fairly common during sleep. Luckily, there are ways to minimize that pain, or eliminate it altogether. The kind of pillow you use, along with what position you sleep in, are likely causes of neck pain.
In general, pillows should support the natural curve of your neck, maintaining the position of your neck when standing with good posture. If your pillow is not the correct height, it may strain your neck muscles and, if it is too tall, it can even obstruct your breathing.
People who sleep on their back should opt for a thin, rounded pillow to support the curve of their neck. There is no single height that works best for every person who sleeps on their back, but there is an easy way to test it. To test a pillow, lie down, mimic your sleeping position, and have a friend take a picture of your neck position.
Sleeping on your back is generally the best sleeping position for your spinal health because it allows the spine to maintain its natural curves. That being said, only 13% of people sleep on their back.
Sleeping on your side is by far the most common sleeping position. A whopping 69% of people sleep on their side in a range of different positions.
Side sleepers should look for a thicker pillow than back sleepers. The pillow should keep both the neck and head positioned in the middle of the shoulders. Your height and your shoulder-width will factor into how thick of a pillow you need. A good rule of thumb is that the pillow should be 4-6 inches thick, depending on personal factors and the pillow’s density.
We have bad news for everyone who sleeps on their stomach: it’s the worst position for your spine. Only 7% of people sleep on their stomach, but those that do are putting strain on their neck muscles nightly.
If you cannot fall asleep in any other position, opt for an ultra-thin pillow or no pillow at all. Any unnecessary thickness will position your neck at a weird angle and result in more strain on your muscles.
Pillows aren’t the only factor in nighttime neck pain. In fact, a study found that those who suffer from sleeping problems such as difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up early in the morning, and non-restorative sleep are much likelier to experience neck pain at night. A possible explanation is that sleep disturbances interrupt the muscle relaxation and healing that occurs during sleep.