Neck Pain and Sleep

Sitting in a Poor Working Posture for prolonged periods of time is like pulling your finger back on full stretch then holding in there. Then pulling some more, more, and more — eventually you’ll stop because it’s going to hurt!

Is your finger broken or damaged? No. Other than being a little sore and achy for the few seconds after you let go, your finger is fine!

Do you ever notice your neck muscles get tight, sore, knotted, bound-up — whatever adjective you want to use — after a long day on the job? Your neck is not tight because your neck is weak, rather you’re feeling the result of cumulative stress on the neck muscles.

Sure, you get your spouse to rub it out your neck muscles, but how long does that last? When does it come back? If you’re not changing your daily postural habits, incorporating more movement and less sedentary positions, it will a continuous cycle with no solution in sight.

Would you rather hold a bowling ball near your body or away from the body with arm extended? The obvious answer is close to the body. Slumping your head forward into the computer screen like a turtle, commonly referred to as “text neck,” is like holding that bowling ball away from your body — your arm is going strain and fatigue quickly!

Our daily postural habits are like cranking back on that finger on a daily basis. At some point, you’re going to feel the effects (pain) of repetitive strain.

Your neck is not weak, it’s exhausted!

To clarify, sitting with the posture on the left is not necessarily “bad” posture — it’s the amount of time we spend in positions like this that’s the problem. Even sitting in the more ideal Correct Working Posture on the right takes its toll on the body over time.

In a perfect, non-deskbound world getting out of prolonged positions, constantly moving and assuming various positions throughout the day is ideal, and can make the difference between suffering with neck pain or not.

But I don’t have neck pain during the day only at night?

Neck Pain Endured at Night is Caused During the Day

Commonly, neck pain endured at night and when you wake up in the morning is the hangover of your postural habits and movement behaviors causing your neck pain in the first place.

In between every one of our spinal bones (vertebra) is shock absorbers we call, “discs.” Our discs are stressed by doing its job supporting the vertebra against gravity and the various forces of movement all day long. At night, the discs decompress, filling with fluid via a physiological process called, “imbibition.”

Envision and sponge in water: you press down on it and the water is forced out. When you let go, the sponge sucks the fluid back in.

Discs become plump with fluid when decompressed. During the night, sensitive nerves of the neck can become more irritated, causing a discomfort and a restless night. In the morning, your symptoms can be more sensitive during the first hour of the day where you’re getting used to gravity and movement forces.

Typically, when the appropriate changes are made to improve the causes of neck pain symptoms during the day, reduction nighttime symptoms follow.

If you experience unrelenting neck or back pain only at night that does not relieve with rest or change of position, contact your physician immediately.

Best Sleep Position for Neck Pain

If someone tells you you should sleep a certain way, it’s a bunch of malarkey. The best sleep position for neck pain at night is the position where you can get the most rest.

Ideal alignment and positioning while sleeping is a real thing, but everyone is different, so you need to make sure to test the cause and effect of what’s best for you.

Do you prefer to sleep on your side? Sounds good. On your back? Awesome. On your face? It’s not usually very comfortable for those with neck pain but if it works for you I’m cool with it. Ultimately, what matters is what allows you for the best rest.

It’s best to sleep with your neck in a neutral, aligned position. When your neck is not supported properly, it can bend or twist into sustained positions which can lead to pain and stiffness in the middle of the night and in the morning.

Imagine pulling that finger back into a stretch again, but now holding it for hours. This is what can happen to your neck when you sleep in unsupported positions. I wonder why you would ever wake up with a stiff neck after that!

What about mattresses?

There’s lots of mattress “science” regarding what is best for you — a lot of “if, then that.” It may become an expensive experiment, but the only way to know if the surface you’re sleeping on is right for you is by, yes, once again, testing it out!