If you have ever been woken up by your alarm only to find a crick in your neck that wouldn’t go away, you know the impact sleep positions have on your comfort.
Adults will spend an average of eight hours in this position, but kids can spend upwards of 13 hours sleeping per night. Those are long periods to be in an uncomfortable position!
If your child experiences a stiff neck after waking, these sleep positions could also work wonders for them. After all, nothing stops a morning in its tracks quite like a cranky kid.
1. Sleep on Your Back
If you are already a back sleeper, let us be the first ones to congratulate you. Sleeping on your back is the ideal position to avoid morning neck pain. If you’re still experiencing neck pain regardless, there are some steps you can take to alleviate it.
Pay attention to what part of your neck hurts, and use that information to adjust your sleep position accordingly. Your choice of pillow (feather, latex foam, down alternative, etc.) is essential; sleeping on your back requires some additional neck support.
It is especially beneficial for back sleepers to have something higher under their neck so that their head isn't resting on a flat surface. You could put something like a rolled-up towel into your pillowcase.
Or, you could opt for a pillow made with you in mind:
It might be worth investing in a memory foam pillow or cervical pillow that has a shape made specifically for back sleepers. These pillows are shaped to support the spine's natural curve, so many people find them to be a great alternative. Remember that the type of pillow you use can be crucial in maintaining a neutral position.
2. Sleep on Your Side
After sleeping on your back, sleeping on your side is among the best sleeping positions for those of us that experience recurring neck pain.
A taller pillow is ideal for side sleepers since you will need some added height to keep your body in alignment. The pillow should not sit under your shoulders but should instead support just your neck and head.
The best pillow should have enough give to be comfortable but should also be rigid enough that you will not sink into it over the course of the night. Many of us shift in our sleep, but using this kind of pillow will set you up for the most success.
If you usually sleep in a different position, it can take some time to adjust. Adults and children alike can find natural help falling asleep with the SleepyPatch. This little sticker uses soothing essential oils to lull people of all ages into a peaceful sleep — no harmful chemicals of any kind, just wholesome natural ingredients.
3. Maintain a Neutral Neck Position
Much of our neck pain comes from unnaturally craning our necks to one side or the other. We should all aim for a neutral neck position while sleeping. A neutral neck position is neither too high nor too low. Your pillow works with you to give just enough lift without it being too much.
Your neck should be at the same level as the rest of your body. It also shouldn’t be turned any way but straight ahead. Avoid the urge to tuck your chin into your chest or pull your shoulder blades up to your ears.
4. Keep Your Spine Aligned While Sleeping
Perhaps the most critical aspect of sleep that contributes to neck pain is spinal alignment. While you are asleep, you should aim for your whole body to be in line. That means that your upper back should be on the same level as your pelvis and hips.
Many side sleepers find that putting a small pillow between your knees helps to align with the curvature of your spine. Putting a pillow there also helps ease the pressure on your knees. Meanwhile, back sleepers only need a small pillow under their head and neck to keep their neck aligned with their spine.
Unfortunately, one quite popular sleeping position does not promote alignment at all. Despite its name, the fetal position is a popular sleeping position for people of all ages. That’s right: the fetal position isn’t just for fetuses anymore!
This position can feel quite comfortable and safe while falling asleep, but even after a good night’s sleep, you might find yourself hurting. The fetal position, while adorable for babies, isn’t particularly productive for adult sleepers.
Since your legs are curled up, your body is automatically unaligned. More stress is also put on certain parts of the body instead of others.
Instead of resting in the fetal position, try falling asleep with your legs situated straight below your back.
5. Evenly Distribute Your Weight on the Mattress
Whether you are a side, back, or even a stomach sleeper, it is imperative to equally distribute your weight. When you distribute your weight unevenly, it causes undue strain on specific parts of your body.
If your neck is taking on a large portion of your weight throughout the night, it probably is not going to feel great the next morning.
Evenly distributing your weight will help with neck pain, but it will also help with pain in the rest of the body. A new sleep posture could make a significant difference if you feel lower back pain shortly after waking.
The next time you lie down (even if it will be a long time before that happens), take a moment to notice your natural position. Do you feel more weight on any one part of your body?
If you do notice some parts of your body taking on more than their fair share, try to distribute your weight more evenly. If you are sleeping on your side, it is natural for your shoulder to bear a lot of the weight. Try to mindfully bear the weight on your shoulder, hip, knee, and anywhere else touching the mattress.
6. Sleep on Your Stomach With Caution
Sorry, stomach sleepers, but we have some bad news. Objectively, sleeping on your stomach is the worst position for those of us with neck pain. Well, sleeping in a full headstand would probably be worse, but stomach sleeping is a close second. It is best to avoid sleeping on your stomach if you want to wake up to a pain-free day.
Sleeping on your stomach means that the most natural position would be to shove your face directly into the pillow. If you were hoping to breathe, this isn’t a great strategy.
Many people wind up craning their necks unnaturally to the side to account for this. Staying in this position throughout the night puts a tremendous strain on your neck muscles, so waking up with some aches and pains is almost inevitable.
This position also strains your joints, meaning that you might wake up with chronic pain in places you haven’t felt before. Despite all this, we know that the siren song of stomach sleeping can be hard to resist.
If you find that your sleep quality improves when you sleep on your stomach, there are some steps you can take to minimize the damage.
There are special pillows made with stomach sleepers in mind. These pillows allow you to maintain a somewhat aligned spine but also give you the ability to breathe while you are facing forward.
Additionally, a thin pillow is best to keep your body aligned however possible.
A Good Neck’s Sleep
With kids, work, and other daily responsibilities, we need as much restorative sleep as we can get. By altering our usual sleep positions and finding the right pillow, we can ensure that we get quality sleep.
If we get quality sleep while also not hurting our necks or causing shoulder pain and back pain in the process, even better.
Of course, if at-home pain relief options aren’t cutting it, seek medical advice from your health and wellness practitioner.