Waking up with neck soreness, stiffness, achiness, and pain can take a toll throughout the day. Individuals that experience this regularly wonder what happened while laying down in bed. Individuals can wake up with one or a combination of these symptoms after sleeping. A few ways to prevent neck pain after sleeping and self-care to relieve any symptoms.
What Is Happening?
The spine keeps the body upright and moving and regularly resists gravity and other forces acting upon it. The neck, aka the cervical spine, is a little more delicate. The neck has the important job of holding up the head. The human head weighs around 10 to 12 lbs, and that’s using proper posture. According to a study, the head’s weight can increase up to 60 lbs. with a 60-degree tilt. This can happen from looking down at a phone for too long. All that weight makes the muscles that support the head and neck work overtime contributing to fatigued muscles.
Then when sleeping, cervical spinal misalignment starts to set in, producing torticollis. Torticollis, aka wry neck, is a condition where the neck gets twisted or tilted at an awkward angle. Babies can be born with it, known as congenital torticollis, and individuals can develop it from various sources. It can be temporary or chronic and can be caused by acute trauma. Torticollis is not considered a condition like ankylosing spondylitis but more like a symptom with overlapping sources.
- The neck’s ligaments can become irritated and inflamed.
- Neck muscle spasms can cause soreness and inflammation.
- Either of these can be caused by sleeping in an awkward position or using the wrong pillow.
Waking With Neck Pain
When waking up with neck pain, it could be that the pillow no longer provides sufficient support, the pillow is too thick, placing the neck in an awkward position, the individual’s sleeping position strains the muscles and ligaments, or a combination. It is usually a pillow that is too soft with no support, which causes neck pain. Maintaining spinal alignment when sleeping is just as crucial as during the day, as it helps to prevent overly taxing the muscles and ligaments.
How to control posture when sleeping?
The pillow could be the answer. A firm pillow will keep the spine in a straight line from the atlas, which is the first cervical vertebra/C1, down to the coccyx or the tailbone. The way an individual sleeps also affects how they wake up. The most recommended sleeping position for individuals with morning neck pain is on the back. Back sleeping might not work for everyone as it can aggravate conditions like sleep apnea. If that is the case, sleeping on the side is the next recommended position. It is recommended to avoid sleeping on the stomach. The head could slip down the pillow edge causing the head to be in a tilted position. This can place added pressure on the nerves that start in the neck, leading to further neck pain or radiculopathy pain that spreads out to the arms or legs.
What To Do?
If neck pain presents after waking, get some ice or a cold pack on it. Try 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. This will reduce inflammation. Also, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can help. If neck pain continues, switch from ice to heat, 20 minutes on, 20 off. If the pain is caused by spasming muscle/s, heat can relax the area and increase blood circulation. A gentle massage on and around the area can help spread circulation and ease the spasm.
Stretching the neck
Stretching the neck will keep the muscles loose and reduce the risk of ligament, muscle, and tendon strains and torticollis.
- Try to touch the right ear to the right shoulder.
- Push gently on the left side of the head.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the left side.
- Repeat on each side ten times.
- Look up to the ceiling as far as possible.
- Return to the starting position.
- Look down as far as possible.
- Do ten reps up and down.
- Turn the head to the right.
- Push the chin gently with the left hand.
- Return to starting position.
- Repeat on the left side.
- Do ten reps right and left.
Sleep and Fat Loss
Body composition change and losing fat mass are also related to sleep. Losing fat requires the body to be in a caloric deficit. This means having the body use more energy than the body takes in. This is accomplished by restricting calories through diet or increasing calories used through physical activity/exercise. However, most individuals utilize a combination. This can be referred to as calories in/calories out. Losing sleep can sabotage fat loss goals by stealing both the calories in and calories out.
Hansraj, Kenneth K. “Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head.” Surgical technology international vol. 25 (2014): 277-9.
Preventing Neck Pain from Sleeping: National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.) “How to Prevent Neck Pain While Sleeping.” sleep.org/articles/prevent-neck-pain-while-sleeping/
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