We’re hoping this article will not PUT you to sleep but rather WAKE YOU UP to the important information presented here about how to sleep in the presence of neck pain.
If you’ve ever had neck pain, then you already know how challenging it is to find a comfortable position in bed and how difficult it can be to fall asleep and stay asleep! In fact, sometimes neck pain can get so bad, that lying down is not even an option.
Sleep, especially deep sleep, is a VERY important part of healing so it’s important to learn as much as possible so you can get some good quality sleep! In fact, a Harvard-based report states 75% of us get less than 6 sleep hours at least a few nights per week, which over the short term, is not a problem, but NOT so over the long haul! They go on to list “Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep:”
- Learning and memory – “memory consolidation” occurs better after we sleep when learning new tasks (and tests scores reflect the difference);
- Weight and metabolism – chronic sleep problems can cause weight gain by altering the way our body processes and stores carbohydrates and by altering the hormones that affect appetite;
- Safety – increased fatigue = a greater tendency to fall asleep during the day, which can be catastrophic (car accidents, industrial accidents, etc.);
- Mood – lack of sleep can increase irritability, impatience, concentration loss, and moodiness;
- Heart health – serious sleep loss has been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat;
- Disease – alters immune function and may help fight cancer.
Let’s get back to sleeping best with neck pain! As a start, avoid caffeine at least 2-3 hours before bedtime – that’s a “no brainer!” For some, exercising too close to bedtime is not helpful.
Regarding neck posture while sleeping, the proper pillow is VERY IMPORTANT! Try lying on your back and both sides but preferably not your stomach due to the need to rotate the neck. The “ideal pillow” is one that allows the neck to remain “neutral” or maintain its normal curve that is present when standing. The pillow should not be too thick or too thin. Since the neck is generally skinnier than the head, a “neck-friendly” pillow should be thicker on the edge so that it fills in the space between the neck and bed and thinner under the head. This is true whether we lay on our sides or back but the amount of space varies with age, gender, and phenotype – that is, thin, medium, or heavy-set body types. There are many contoured or “shaped” pillows available that are thicker on the outside edges and thinner in the middle. Some of these include foam pillows of different densities, air pillows, water pillows, memory foam pillows, feather pillows, and others. Some companies make a pillow based on the measurement between the neck and the point of the shoulder. This allows the person to pick the pillow size best suited for their neck size. It’s important to note that it can take about a week to get used to the “new shaped” pillow so, “BE PATIENT!” Since we spend 6-8 hours of time in bed sleeping (that’s 25-30% of our life is spent sleeping!), neck pain may be PREVENTED by using a contoured pillow and it’s easier to get used to the new shape when you don’t hurt so take advantage of getting a contoured pillow when you are feeling good!