How to avoid a stiff neck while sleeping

Updated March 23, 2017

Waking up in the morning with a stiff neck is a common problem. To overcome a stiff neck, try to avoid the potential causes. The pain comes on so gradually through the night, you don't realise you hurt until the next morning. Follow these steps to identify and correct stiff neck problems.

Use the proper pillow. Be sure your pillow elevates your head about three inches higher than your body, when lying on your back or side. A good pillow cradles your head comfortably, and keeps your neck supported through the night. Sleeping with your neck at an unnatural angle is the most common cause of neck strain. Consider buying a specially designed neck pillow if you frequently wake up with a stiff neck.

Sleep on a firm mattress. Even if you have the right pillow, a soft, sagging mattress can defeat good posture while sleeping. Good posture during the night is just as important as good posture during the day. Ideally, the mattress and pillow should combine to keep your spine and neck in line to prevent muscle strain and a stiff neck.

Avoid sleeping in a draft. An open bedroom window and the fresh air it brings can be beneficial, but if the breeze blows in on your neck through the night, it can chill your muscles leading to stiffness in the morning. Sleeping with the air conditioner can do the same. If you must sleep with the window open or under air conditioning, move your bed to place in the bedroom where you're not in a draft.

Don't sleep on your stomach. This posture elevates your head improperly, and can force your head to turn too far to one side, straining your neck. If you have a tendency to roll onto your stomach in your sleep, try placing pillows on each side of your body to keep you from rolling.

Relieve tension in your neck with a few simple stretching exercises before bed. Stress can build up during the day, and if you don't take steps to relax your neck, the strain may intensify during the night. It may also help to stretch in bed when you wake up in the morning before getting out of bed.

Consult a doctor if a stiff neck persists in spite of all your efforts to correct it. A chronic stiff neck can be a symtom of more serious problems.


The right neck pillow is an individual choice based on your size, weight and any particular conditions you may have. See the resource section for information and sources of neck pillows.

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