Waking up after a good night’s sleep to a painful, stiff neck is not the way you want to start your day. A stiff neck can cause discomfort for several days or even weeks.

What Causes a Stiff Neck From Sleeping?

There are many reasons why you may wake up with a neck strain. Knowing what causes it can help you prevent a stiff neck. Here are the most common culprits.

  • Your sleeping position

If you fall asleep in an awkward position that puts pressure or strain on your body, you may wake up feeling pain in your neck muscles. Maintaining proper alignment while you sleep is important. The two most neck friendly sleeping positions are on your side and on your back. A pillow can also be placed between your legs to help alleviate pressure and keep your alignment as well. If you sleep on your stomach, your back will naturally arch, putting you at a higher risk of feeling stiff in the morning.

  • Your bed

If you get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, you spend a lot of quality time in bed. This means that your pillow and mattress play an important part in your overall health. If either are too firm or too soft, they can create tension throughout your body, which can cause stiffness and pain.

  • Insomnia

Believe it or not, a lack of sleep can also be the cause of pain in the morning. If you spend your resting hours tossing and turning, your body doesn’t have the opportunity to truly relax and rid itself of the stress and tension you experience day to day.

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  • Your daily activities

While it would be wonderful to be able to shake off each day the second your head hits your pillow, it’s often unachievable. If you spend your day working with poor posture or tweak your neck or back while lifting, it’s likely your body is going to carry these issues through the night, and without proper care, may get worse as you sleep.

Treatment for a Stiff Neck

Although there are many reasons why you may wake up with pain and stiffness, there are also many treatment options to relieve your neck and prevent muscle strain.

Proper Technique 

By bending and lifting correctly, you will protect your neck and spine from injury. Using the proper technique will also help reinforce good posture. The more you practice, the stronger your muscles will become.


Exercise can help eliminate pain in several ways. Stronger muscles will allow you to maintain your posture but it will also help improve your circulation and range of motion. In addition, if your exercise leads to weight loss, there will be less pressure on your joints and muscles. Exercise also releases endorphins which interact with your brain receptors to reduce your perception of pain.

Flexibility exercises are also an important part of neck strengthening. Gently stretching can help relieve tension and improve your range of motion and flexibility, all of which lead to less pain. While exercise may be helpful, it is important to consult a physician prior to beginning any new exercise.

Hot & Cold Packs

Alternating hot and cold compresses is a common and easy way to treat stiffness. For the first 24-72 hours, apply ice in 20 minute intervals. The cold will numb your pain and reduce any inflammation. After the first 3 days, alternate between a heating pad and a cold compress. The heat will increase your blood flow and relax your muscles. Be sure that you wrap all compresses to protect your skin.


If the above recommendations do not provide you relief, there is a wide array of over-the-counter and prescription medications available to help. Common over-the-counter pain relievers include Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve. Each of these has possible interactions with other medications and can impact your overall health if taken regularly for long periods of time. Consult your physician before taking any of these over-the-counter drugs regularly.

Your physician may also recommend stronger medications such as pain killers or muscle relaxers to help alleviate your symptoms. These medications are only available with a prescription. Your doctor will perform a thorough exam and assess your current health before selecting the best medications to meet your needs.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists use a wide array of exercises and tools to help alleviate pain and improve their patient’s overall health. A skilled physical therapist can teach you exercises that will help strengthen and improve your posture as well as your neck alignment. Your therapist may teach you stretches and exercises as well as techniques that you can practice at home. They may also recommend tools such as heat, massage, electrical stimulation and water therapy.

Surgical Intervention

If you do not find relief through any of these methods, surgical intervention may be required. This is the most invasive treatment type and would need to be agreed upon as the best option by yourself and your doctor. Surgery can be used to repair ligament tears and other injuries that are not likely to heal on their own.

Many people suffer from recurring neck pain and stiffness. This can impact your quality of life and ability to enjoy your day to day activities. If you wake up with neck pain, contact our office. We look forward to working with you and eliminating your pain as quickly as possible.