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Stiff Neck from Sleeping

Ishani Chatterjee Shukla
Stiff neck from sleeping is not a serious medical condition; however, it may affect your daily activities. This article highlights the causes and the ways to treat this condition.
Getting a stiff neck after sleeping is a very common problem faced by many people. It occurs if you sleep in an awkward position. The pain usually subsides on its own after a few days. However, the pain can make it difficult for you to even slightly tilt or nod your head when the neck and shoulder muscles stiffen. Even a little effort to move your head might leave you with a terrible, shooting pain that may last for at least half a minute.


The singular reason behind this phenomenon is a strained neck and shoulder muscle. Indeed, you can feel this when you attempt to move your neck or shoulders and find yourself unable to do so.

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This is because the movements are controlled by the muscles, and when these muscles are under physical stress, they are unable to perform their regulatory function. Other causes that may lead to a stiff neck from sleeping wrong are:
  • Using a mattress which does not provide proper support to your back and neck when you sleep. This results in bad sleeping posture, and thereby stiffness in the neck.
  • Using a pillow which is either too high or too soft. This can give you a stiff neck in the morning by unnecessarily stretching your neck muscles and not giving proper support to the neck.
  • Setting the AC too low while sleeping. Extreme cold can freeze your neck and back muscles making them stiff.
  • Sleeping in a bad position all night can strain your neck, shoulder, and back muscles and leave them sore.


Following home remedies may help provide relief from pain:
  • The first thing that you should do to ease your condition is to loosen those stiffened neck muscles. For this purpose, applying a heat pack (a hot water bag or a warm towel) for about 15-20 minutes should be the first course of action.
  • Gently massage the back of the neck by applying eucalyptus oil or a menthol-based balm. The massaging should be done with all four fingertips of each hand joined together and moving in small circular motions along the back of your neck, and extended to the shoulders for about 2-5 minutes.
  • Once you feel you can move your neck somewhat easily and without pain, you can try some slow neck and shoulder stretches and head tilts (forward and side), in alternating sets of 4. This will help strengthen your neck muscles and improve your range of motion. Perform these exercises very slowly and smoothly to avoid aggravating the condition further.
  • Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin to alleviate the pain.
  • Use a firm pillow, which is also low in height while sleeping.
  • Maintain a correct posture throughout the day so that the condition does not become worse.
  • Try not to wear a neck collar since it may restrict the movement of the neck and delay the healing process.
  • Avoid vigorous physical activities, or activities such as sports, dancing, running, weightlifting, driving, etc., till the condition heals completely.
If none of the aforementioned remedies work, or the stiffness and pain does not subside after a few days, then consult a doctor.
You should never attempt any of the aforementioned stiff neck exercises if you still find it difficult to move your neck even an inch. Forceful stretching will only worsen your condition.
Prevention is always better than cure, and hence, make sure that your sleeping environment is perfectly conducive for undisturbed slumber while giving maximum physical comfort and support. Get yourself a good, certified-for-back-support mattress and a low pillow or cushion made from non sagging and least-compressing material.
Avoid foam mattresses and pillows at all costs; they may seem soft and cozy, but you may end up damaging your spine due to poor body support provided by foam.
Disclaimer: This HolisticZine article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.