Tips to Improve Sleep and Prevent Neck Pain

If you have neck pain or wake from sleep with a painful stiff neck, suspect your pillow. People can sleep peacefully on pillows of varying thicknesses, but incorrect sleeping position is a common cause for neck pain. Here are some tips to help you sleep better and prevent neck pain.

  • Don't sleep on too fat a pillow or too many pillows, or without a pillow, if that causes your neck to flex. A pillow should help keep your neck aligned with your spine.
  • If you sleep on your back or side, a pillow should just fill up the contour of the neck. Pulling the edge of the pillow down between your chin and shoulder will help support your neck.
  • A softer pillow is usually better for sleeping on your back, a firmer one if you sleep on your side.
  • Putting another pillow under your knees may be helpful if you sleep on your back—or put it between your knees if you sleep on your side. A cervical roll (a small cylindrical pillow) can give good neck support. Some pillows with special contours can also help.
  • Sleeping on your stomach rotates your neck and is not recommended. If you do sleep this way, use a thin soft pillow so your head is level.
  • If your mattress is soft, choose a fatter pillow; if your mattress is firm, a thinner one.
  • Pillows wear out faster than you think. If your pillow feels thin, lumpy, and lifeless, replace it.

Words to the wise: Be skeptical about pseudo-medical claims regarding pillows with "memory foam," layers of water or gel, and "magical" herbal fillers, as well as copper cases that are supposed to make you look younger. A pillow is only a pillow—your comfort is what counts. Reasonably priced pillows can be just as good as the high-ticket items.

Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (March 2011)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 26 Apr 2011

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015