Do you or your partner suffer from neck pain?
Is it making it difficult for you to get good night’s sleep – or does sleeping make it worse?
You’ve come to the right place.
What’s In This Guide?
Table of Contents
Whether your neck pain is from a health condition, or as in my case caused by sleeping on an my side with the wrong-loft pillow, it will affect your sleep quality.
Poor sleep, in turn, can worsen the pain by slowing down healing.
In this sleep guide, I discuss the most common sleep-related issues people with neck pain experience and look at some of the best solutions to fix or relieve them. Some of the solutions we’ll discuss are products, but we’ll also touch on exercises and practical recommendations from medical professionals.
After discussing issues and solutions, I then review the best sleep products I know of to help you sleep more comfortably with minimal or no neck pain. Including the pillows I’ve tried and eventually solved most of my problem.
Sleep-Related Issues (and Solutions) For People With Neck Pain
In this section, we’ll discuss the most common issues and problems people with neck pain suffer from – either preventing them from sleeping or causing neck pain at night.
As we go, I’ll discuss a couple of top-rated/popular products and other solutions that can help.
After this section, we review each of our recommended products in more detail.
Neck pain, back pain, hip pain — any pain is likely to lead to insomnia. And the worst part is that insomnia itself can worsen pain, so you are caught in a vicious cycle.
This is especially the case if your neck pain is from an injury or health condition like a slipped disk, osteoarthritis, or a pinched nerve.
Lack of sleep can slow down healing, negatively affect blood circulation, and worsen inflammation. All these increase the severity of the pain.
The best way to tackle insomnia caused by neck pain is to manage the pain.
Check with your doctor to make sure there isn't an underlying health condition causing neck pain. If there is, seek treatment or medication to help with the pain.
Also seek treatment if an injury is the cause of your neck.
If you suspect the neck pain is because you are sleeping on the wrong bedding, make your bed more comfortable, especially your pillow.
You need a pillow that supports your head and aligns your neck with your spine.
We recommend the Coop Home Goods Original Loft Pillow for most sleepers since you can adjust it to the perfect height for your sleeping position and body size.
Stomach sleepers need a flat and pressure-relieving pillow like the Continental Bedding Premium White Goose Down Pillow.
If you have severe neck pain, a cervical pillow like the ZAMAT Contour Memory Foam Pillow provides extra support to reduce neck pain.
You can also use a neck booster pillow with your regular pillow to get better neck support. We recommend the AllSet neck roll memory foam pillow.
As for the mattress, look for one that supports your body evenly and maintains neutral spinal alignment. The Saatva Classic is an excellent choice. It offers great support and is available in three firmness levels to suit your sleeping position.
Pain At Night
Many people with neck pain notice that the pain gets worse at night. I have also noticed it with myself those times I’ve suffered from neck pain.
That’s likely because we put more pressure and strain on our necks when we sleep.
This could be because of using the wrong pillow, an uncomfortable mattress, movements during sleep or your sleep position.
The first step in reducing neck pain at night is getting comfortable. Get one of the pillows I mentioned above, and also make sure your mattress offers adequate support.
In addition, here are some other things you can do to reduce neck pain at night.
- Gently stretch your neck before you sleep. This is called neck or cervical traction. It stretches your cervical spine, relieving pressure and reducing pain. The best way to stretch your neck is using a neck traction device like the ZAMAT Neck and Shoulder Relaxer.
- Try heat and cold therapy at least twice a day. Start with cold therapy for 20 minutes, wait two hours, then apply heat for 20 minutes. The cold reduces pain, swelling and inflammation, while the heat relaxes muscles and increases blood flow for longer lasting pain relief. The Carex Bed Buddy provides both heat and cold therapy for neck pain.
- Try electrotherapy. Electrotherapy uses low electrical currents to reduce pain in the target area. You can do electrotherapy on your neck at home using a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine like the HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit.
Massage also works great for reducing back pain. It relaxes muscles and promotes blood flow. I like using a hands free massager so I don't have to bother my partner every time I want a neck massage. The Nekteck Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager provides deep neck massage and even has a heat function.
Difficulty Moving Your Head When In Bed
Neck pain makes previously simple movements in bed harder. Things like changing sleep position, sitting up or lying down, and moving your head from side to side.
In fact, moving your head and neck too much can worsen the pain.
Try sleeping with a neck brace. Look for a comfortable one like the VELPEAU Neck Brace that you can sleep with.
A neck brace will stabilize your neck and offer additional support. It can make it less painful to get up from bed, turn over to the other side and make other movements.
Other Sleeping Tips & Solutions For Neck Pain
- You can stretch your neck even without a cervical traction device. Here's a video on some easy neck stretching exercises. You can also try Yoga routines that target the neck and shoulders.
- If you suspect your mattress is causing neck pain but can't afford to get a new one, a mattress topper is a cheaper alternative. Get a soft or medium topper if your mattress feels too firm and a medium firm or firm topper if your mattress is too soft.
- Using your phone too much in bed can aggravate neck pain. Either reduce how much time you spend on the phone while in bed or get a bed phone holder that positions the phone at a comfortable height.
- Consider changing your sleeping position if you are a stomach sleeper. Sleeping on your stomach places more pressure on your neck and back than any other position. Try sleeping on your side or back instead.
- Analyze your day for any habits that might be causing or worsening your neck pain. For instance, the position of your computer, your sitting posture when working, spending too much time looking up at the TV, spending a lot of time looking down on your phone and so on.
Top 10 Sleep Products For People Who Suffer From Neck Pain
The shredded memory foam filling is what makes the Coop loft pillow easy to adjust. You can take out some of the filling or add more to get it to your preferred thickness.
The pillow comes with an extra bag of filling if you want to make it thicker than it is.
The adjustability makes the Coop loft pillow a good pick for most sleepers, regardless of your sleeping style and body size.
Thanks to the plush memory foam, the Coop loft pillow feels comfortable in any sleeping position. The memory foam contours to your head and neck, and prevents pressure on your painful neck.
The polyester and viscose cover feels soft and breathable (though not quite as airy as cotton).
Unlike solid memory foam or latex pillows, you can put the entire Coop loft pillow in the washing machine and dryer.
Issues & Limitations
One downside of shredded memory foam pillows is that they occasionally get lumpy. But it’s easy to fix this by fluffing the Coop loft pillow with your hands. It’ll regain its loft.
Another issue with the Coop loft pillow is its tendency to get hot. It sleeps a bit cooler than a solid memory foam mattress (shredded foam has better airflow), but hot sleepers say they still find it uncomfortable.
If you find the Coop pillow to hot, try replacing the polyester case with a cooling cover made from cotton, bamboo or another highly breathable fabric.
Alternatively, get a shredded latex pillow like the PureTree Organic Shredded Latex Pillow. You get the same benefits – pressure relief, adjustable, machine washable – but it sleeps much cooler.
The Continental Bedding goose down pillow squishes down and flattens when you place your head on it. This is exactly what you want if you are a stomach sleeper.
It keeps your neck aligned with your spine.
The soft down filling protects your neck from pressure that could worsen the pain.
The Continental Bedding down pillow doesn't contain any feathers, so you don't have to worry about sharp feathers poking at your face.
Note: The Continental Bedding down pillow is available in a soft and firm option. I recommend the soft version for stomach sleepers.
The pillow cover is made from Egyptian cotton, so it feels really soft and luxurious. The breathable cotton cover (plus the natural down filling) helps keep you cool at night.
As for cleaning, the Continental Bedding down pillow is machine washable.
Issues & Limitations
The Continental Bedding goose down pillow is not cheap. If you are on a budget, a down alternative (microfiber) pillow is a cheaper option. But it might sleep a bit warmer and it won’t last as long.
The ZAMAT memory foam pillow has contours that are designed to cradle the neck to provide better support, stability and pressure relief.
The center of the pillow has contours designed specifically for back and stomach sleeping, while the sides of the pillow are higher to accommodate side sleepers.
The pillow has a medium soft feel that easily cradles your neck and head, providing instant pressure relief and cushioning your neck from additional pain.
In addition, the soft memory foam also relieves pressure on your shoulders. It can help prevent or reduce shoulder pain and soreness.
While not as customizable as the Coop loft pillow, you can adjust the height of the ZAMAT pillow by removing the memory foam inserts inside. This lowers the height of the pillow.
If you want to make the pillow thicker than it is, contact ZAMAT via Amazon to order extra inserts.
As for care, the polycotton cover on the ZAMAT pillow is removable and machine washable. Because this is a solid memory foam pillow, you can only wash the cover.
Issues & Limitations
The AllSet neck roll pillow is a small pillow but it makes a world of difference when it comes to relieving neck pain.
You can still use your regular pillow, but place the AllSet roll pillow under your neck for better neck support.
You can also put the pillow inside your pillowcase and position it where your neck lies. You’ll need a bigger pillowcase for this, though.
The AllSet roll pillow is for side and back sleeping. When you are on your side, it holds up the neck to keep it aligned with your spine.
When you are sleeping on your back, it supports your neck and allows a bit of a stretch that relieves pressure and pain in your cervical spine.
The AllSet neck roll pillow is made with memory foam, so it does a great job cushioning your neck. It’s much more comfortable than a rolled up towel.
The roll pillow is 17” long. This is long enough that you can roll over in your sleep without falling off the pillow.
The plush cover on the roll pillow is removable and washable.
Issues & Limitations
Some sleepers found the AllSet neck roll pillow a bit too firm (but a majority say it was perfect for them). If you find it firm, it’s probably because you are not yet used to it.
Sleep on it a few nights and see if it softens up.
Hybrid mattresses – those that are made with foam and coils – offer the best support. But the Saatva Classic has even more support than most hybrid mattresses.
That’s because it has two layers of coils.
The first is a zoned pocket coil layer. It is firmer at the center of the mattress to provide better lumbar support and ensure your spine stays in neutral alignment no matter which position you sleep in.
Right below the pocket coils is another layer of tempered steel coils that provide overall support and ensure the mattress lasts a long time.
For pressure relief, the Saatva Classic comes with a 3” plush Euro pillow top that hugs your curves and relieves pressure points.
It’s followed by a memory foam layer that provides additional body contouring as well as lumbar support.
The dual coil design and the high-density foam rails on the sides provide unmatched edge to edge support even for heavy sleepers and couples.
The Saatva Classic is available in three firmness levels: plush soft, luxury firm, and firm. So you can choose the one that best fits your sleeping style. Even the plush soft still offers great support – it’s not too soft that you’ll sink deep into it.
And if it turns out to be uncomfortable, Saatva allows returns and exchanges within the first year after purchase ($99 processing fee).
If you are happy with your mattress, you get a lifetime warranty.
By the way, Saatva delivers the mattress and sets it up for free and will even take away your old mattress and foundation if you want.
Issues & Limitations
The main complaint from users is that the plush soft Saatva Classic – which is supposed to be the softest – is not as soft as they expected.
If you are a side sleeper looking for a soft mattress that will provide deep pressure relief on your shoulders and hips, you may need to use the Saatva Classic with a soft topper.
Alternatively, get a softer mattress like Helix Midnight.
You don't have to go to the spa to get a relaxing neck and shoulder massage. The Nekteck Shiatsu massager uses rotating nodes to provide hands free massage.
To use the massager, place it around your neck and hold the straps down with your arms to apply pressure. You can also place the massager on the bed and then lie on it if you want your arms free.
The shiatsu massage may feel a bit rough at first, but it gets relaxing after a few sessions. For a more natural feel, the nodes reverse direction every one minutes.
You can choose from two speed settings – slow and fast.
There’s also a button to turn on the heat, which should help with the neck pain. You cannot adjust the heat level, but it just gets pleasantly warm.
The Nekteck Shiatsu massager has a 15-minute auto shutoff to prevent overheating. This is also the ideal amount of time to use the massager – otherwise, you could get sore.
The Nekteck Shiatsu is also great for use on other areas of the body including the back, thighs, and legs. So you can tackle aches and soreness on different parts of your body.
Issues & Limitations
The massager itself is just about perfect. There are no major complaints from users.
The only small issue is with the zipper on the mesh cover. It breaks easily and can get caught in your hair when you are massaging your neck.
Fortunately, the manufacturer can send a replacement massager if the zipper breaks.
A neck brace stabilizes and supports your cervical spine. This reduces pressure on it, improves healing and drastically reduces pain.
Whether your neck pain is caused by an injury, poor sleeping/sitting posture, a herniated disk or some other problem, the VELPEAU neck brace will help.
VELPEAU has different sizes and types of the neck brace. Make sure you choose the right one for the best comfort and pain relief.
Use the chart in the product page to choose among the small, medium, large and X-large sizes. The chart is based on neck height and circumference.
Next, choose the type of neck brace you want.
If you want a neck brace to sleep with, get the comfort version (regular or special depending on your neck height).
It’s made with soft foam that supports your neck but still allows some flexibility for comfort when in bed.
The dual use version has a band around the outside that provides extra support when you are up and about. You can remove the band when wearing the brace to bed.
If you plan to wear the brace most of the time, go with the dual use brace.
The VELPEAU neck braces all come with a thick and soft sleeve that you can wash.
Issues & Limitations
Because the brace is made with foam, it can get a bit too warm on your neck. This can be especially uncomfortable if you are a naturally hot sleeper.
The ZAMAT neck and shoulder relaxer is a simple block of foam that’s contoured to fit comfortably against your neck.
To use it, place it on the floor or bed (a firm surface like the floor works best). Then lie down and rest your neck on the pillow.
The traction pillow allows your head to drop down slightly, which creates a curve in your neck. This creates a space between the vertebrae in your cervical spine, which relieves pressure and pain.
People who’ve used the ZAMAT relaxer say they enjoy significant pain relief for several hours.
For best results, use it twice a day for no more than 10 minutes each time.
The ZAMAT traction pillow comes with a soft and breathable cover that you can remove and wash. The manufacturer says the cover provides magnetic therapy (via embedded magnetic particles), but there’s no scientific evidence that magnetic therapy reduces pain.
What might help are the small massage nubs embedded in the pillow. They press against your neck and shoulder, helping relax muscles and increase blood flow.
Another thing we like about the ZAMAT neck and shoulder relaxer is its compact and lightweight size. You can carry it anywhere with you like a hotel room or camping.
Some users say they like to have it handy in case a tension headache starts setting in. A few minutes on the ZAMAT pillow and the headache goes away.
Issues & Limitations
There are many complaints regarding an unpleasant smell when the pillow is new. Washing the cover and airing the foam helps eliminate the smell.
Combined cold and heat therapy can provide more effective pain relief for some people compared to just using an ice pack or heat pack on its own.
The Carex Bed Buddy provides both kinds of treatments. It consists of organic grains sewn inside the soft fabric cover.
To use it as a cold pack, leave it in the freezer for several hours. Once it’s cold, wrap it around your neck and shoulders to reduce inflammation and swelling.
Wait about two hours then put it in the microwave oven for 1.15 minutes (600W), 50 seconds (900W) or 37 seconds (1200W).
Don't leave it longer than that or you’ll start cooking the grains inside. Place it around your neck and let the warmth soothe the pain away.
The pack stays warm for about 30 minutes to an hour.
Issues & Limitations
When you microwave the Carex Bed Buddy pack, it emits a burnt popcorn/oatmeal smell. Some people like it, others don't.
If you hate the smell, consider getting a gel pack instead.
The other issue is that the Carex Bed Buddy doesn't get quite as hot as an electric neck massager. If you need more heat for faster pain relief, get the Nekteck massager I reviewed above.
Electrotherapy has been proven to help with pain relief. The HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit works by sending out low electrical currents that interfere with pain signals to your brain.
This provides short term pain relief.
The YK15AB TENS unit consists of the main device with a backlit screen, long wires, 8 electrode pads, and 3 AAA batteries.
To use the TENS unit, you simply stick the pads on the affected area. If you have neck pain, stick the pads where you are feeling the pain.
Use two pads to target a particular area. Connect the wire leads to the main device and plug them into the pads.
The main device has multiple outlets that let you connect all four leads at once. And because each lead plugs into two pads, you can use all eight pads at the same time on different parts of the body.
The YK15AB TENS unit has lots of settings and programs to customize your experience. You can choose from 9 modes for specific parts of the body, 6 therapeutic modes that adjust how current is delivered, and 20 intensity levels.
Because the YK15AB TENS unit has two independent channels, you can set different intensities for pads on different parts of the body.
Most users say they find intensity levels between 1 and 5 to be sufficient for pain relief, stiffness and soreness.
Higher intensity levels are ideal if you get intense pain flare ups.
The YK15AB TENS unit runs on 3 AAA batteries that last for weeks or months depending on how often you use it. This makes it highly portable. You can carry it wherever you go since you don't need to plug it in.
Issues & Limitations
While the YK15AB TENS unit has plenty of features, there are a couple of important ones missing.
Many users say they’d love a lock button that keeps one from accidentally increasing intensity (e.g. when you put the device in your pocket). This feature would also keep kids from messing with the settings.
A memory feature would also be handy. As it is, you have to reconfigure the settings every time you start up the unit.
Sleep Products For Neck Pain: FAQs
What type of pillow is best for neck pain?
If you have neck pain, look for a pillow that is suited to your sleeping position. If you sleep on your back, you need a medium loft pillow. Stomach sleepers need a low pillow while side sleepers need a higher pillow.
How do I sleep comfortably with neck pain?
If you sleep on your back or side, place a rolled up towel or a roller pillow under your neck for added support.
You can also try sleeping on a cervical pillow or wear a neck brace when you go to bed.
Why do I wake up with neck pain?
Waking up with a sore or aching neck is a clear sign your sleeping posture is not right. Your mattress or pillow is likely not providing the right support and spinal alignment, which causes or worsens neck pain.
Start by getting a more comfortable pillow for your sleeping position and see if the pain goes away. If you still wake up with neck pain accompanied by back pain, you probably need a new mattress or at least a mattress topper.
Is a firm pillow good for neck pain?
A medium-firm pillow is best for most sleepers with neck pain. It holds your neck at the right position while providing pressure relief.
If you have severe neck pain, consider getting a softer memory foam, down or down alternative pillow that provides extra cushioning to prevent further pain.
Is it better for your neck to sleep without a pillow?
No, it's not. Most sleepers need a pillow. Without a pillow, your neck will bend downwards, resulting in serious neck pain.
Only some stomach sleepers can sleep without a pillow.
How do I get rid of neck pain fast?
A cold and heat pack is effective for quickly reducing neck pain. A neck massager also works wonders especially when accompanied by heat.
You can also try electrotherapy using a TENS unit. It provides instant pain relief.
Which is the best sleeping position for neck pain?
Side and back sleeping are the best positions for relieving neck pain. Just make sure the mattress and pillow are suited to your sleeping position.
Sleeping on your stomach is the worst position for neck pain. It also increases the risk of lower back pain.
How do I stop my neck and shoulders from hurting when I sleep?
Check whether you need to replace your pillow and/or mattress with a more supportive one.
You can also try sleeping with a neck roll pillow or a cervical pillow. A cervical pillow is especially effective at relieving pain on your neck as well as your shoulders.
Do neck pillows work?
Neck pillows are great for relieving neck pain. There are different kinds for different uses.
A cervical pillow is contoured to cradle your head and neck when sleeping. It provides extra support and pressure relief.
A neck roll pillow goes under your neck, which helps align it with your spine. You use a roll pillow together with your regular pillow.
A traction pillow is designed to stretch the neck. This relieves pressure and pain in the cervical spine. Use a traction pillow for just 10 minutes to relieve pain.
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