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Why Do I Have Neck Pain After Sleeping

08 June 2023

If you've been waking up with a stiff neck and wondering how you could possibly manage to hurt yourself when you're lying down and doing nothing - you're not alone!

We sleep every day for our whole lives, but we haven't actually gotten very good at it. In fact, as we grow up, we only tend to sleep worse - from being light sleepers to pulling all-nighters, there's a good number of reasons why we sleep so badly.

But you'd wonder: why does sleeping cause neck pain? Let's take a look at that.

Neck Pain: What is Torticollis?

No, torticollis isn't a new kind of nacho, though it definitely sounds like one. The condition you wake up with - a stiff neck - is caused by torticollis, so it is, in fact, quite the opposite of a delicious nacho.

To understand the problem, let's first look at where the problem stems, to begin with.

Torticollis is where your neck gets twisted to an awkward angle, which puts strain on the muscles around the area and makes it hurt. When sleeping, you don't really realize it but your body tends to twist in strange positions, and if you hold them for a long time, it can end up causing you pain.

The spine is quite strong when you put it together, but the individual parts of the spine are very fragile on their own. This is especially true about the cervical spine, which is the part of your neck. The cervical spine has the job of keeping your head up, which weighs about 10 to 12 pounds on average when you're maintaining good posture.

Even a 60-degree tilt can increase the effective weight of your head to about 60 pounds, and this obviously means that the muscles in your neck have to work harder to keep it supported. Taking this, and then adding the problem of sleeping in a funny position that puts extra stress on your neck and you're just looking for pain.

Causes of Torticollis

Now that you know what torticollis is and what affects it, let's look at some of the reasons you may have neck pain after sleeping.

You might not care too much about your sleeping position or the kind of bedding you use, but that's because we're just bad at sleeping, as mentioned earlier. In reality, the position you sleep in and the pillow you use can have a significant impact on your safety and comfort as you sleep.

Without taking these into consideration, you can easily cause yourself a stiff neck and pain when you wake up.

In fact, up to 5 percent of problems with neck pain can be a result of sleeping wrong. The good news is that these causes are usually controllable, so if you make the choice to get a grip on them, you can easily alleviate the pain.

Sleeping Position

Again, sleeping position is important. Everyone has one they prefer, and while you should find the one that suits you best, if yours is on your stomach, your neck is going to suffer as a result.

When you sleep on your stomach, your neck is going to be twisted in one direction for a long time - hours upon hours, even! This causes your neck muscles to be strained and can make them sore and stiff. When you wake up in the morning, you're going to be in a lot of pain!

In fact, sleeping position doesn't just cause neck pain on its own, it also puts extra strain on your lower back and your spine. As a result, your posture gets worse, and you'll end up hunching over, which causes more problems for your neck. Neck pain is already a pain (in the neck) and you definitely don't want to add back pain to your list of problems anyway.

Sometimes sleeping on your back or your side can also cause pain because you may find your neck isn't fully supported.

FlexiSpot's Adjustable Bed Base can help because, with this, you can adjust your position without actually having to move your body. If your neck is in pain, you can tilt the head of the bed up a little bit so it can remain supported, while also keeping the rest of your body in a reasonable position that doesn't cause pain elsewhere.


Another important consideration to make is that of your pillow. Because you spend hours upon hours every night on your pillow, you definitely want one that can keep you safe and won't hurt your neck. Choosing the right pillow is actually quite essential to preventing pain, though most people don't realize it.

Your pillow shouldn't be too soft or too firm - it should be just enough for your head to be cradled while you sleep but keeps your neck in a neutral position so you don't end up hurting your spine or twisting your neck in an awkward position.

In fact, most people may think a hard pillow will cause pain, but most often, it is a softer pillow that causes problems. The goal is to make sure your spine remains in a straight line from the very top - the cervical spine - all the way down to the tailbone. A softer pillow will give way more easily and thus causes more trouble.

Sudden Movement

If you make any sudden movements, this can also cause problems. For example, if you sit up too quickly, or if you tend to flail while you sleep because of a dream, you may accidentally hurt yourself by straining your neck muscles.

Tossing and turning can also cause this problem at times. While it does cause pain when you wake up, it's likely not a very serious problem, being a one-time thing, and will go away on its own.

Poor Posture

If you have poor posture during the day, you'd find that this tends to extend to your sleeping hours as well, and you'd wake up with pain in your neck. This is especially true if you work at a computer for long hours without moving.

Staying idle is generally bad for your posture and can cause strain on your neck muscles. Later, when you sleep, you may not realize it but this pain can get worse - especially if your sleeping position isn't a good one either.

The best option in this case is to fix your posture while working. You can opt for a good chair, like FlexiSpot's Ergonomic Mesh Chair, which comes with a headrest that keeps your neck supported and prevents pain.

Injuries or Medical Problems

Other reasons for neck pain, when you wake up, could be because of medical problems or previous injuries. If you've gotten hurt, you may not realize it immediately but the full physical effects become more apparent after a few days. If you injure yourself in such a way, you may feel okay when you go to sleep, but wake up with a stiff neck.

Other problems could be osteoarthritis, especially if it affects the upper spine. Nerve compression can also cause pain in the neck.

Remedies for Neck Pain

If your neck pain lasts longer than a few weeks and doesn't go away despite fixing your position, pillow, posture, and such, you may want to get a professional to check it out and be sure there aren't any underlying problems.

Neck pain can be quite troublesome though, and can start hindering your daily life as well. It can help to keep ice or heat packs against your neck. If there's any sort of inflammation, ice helps, while if the problem lies in the muscles being stiff, heat can help with loosening them up. Painkillers can also help.

You should also try and make sure you're incorporating neck stretches in your daily life, whether you have neck pain or not. Stretches help with recovery, but they are also an important part of prevention because they help keep your muscles loose and reduce the risk of strain or sprains, and thus, torticollis.

However, if you're already in pain, they won't work entirely on their own. You'll need to make sure you're doing them regularly and taking help from meds or ice/heat therapy to help speed up the process.

Neck pain is usually not very serious and will heal on its own, as long as you're taking care of it. However, sometimes, it can become too long-lasting, and you may have to see a doctor. They'll help you figure out what's causing the pain and what you need to get rid of it.