Relieving a Stiff Neck After Sleeping

Posted by Lucy Jones on

If you’re like most people, you experience occasional neck pain and discomfort. And because many of us have poor sleep habits, it’s possible you’ve experienced a neck stiffness after sleeping as well.

The truth is, a stiff neck can be caused by a whole host of reasons. Some of these can be related to the sleep itself, while for others, sleep may simply be the aggravator.

And neck pain won’t show up the same for everyone. Depending on the cause of your neck pain, there can be a whole host of symptoms, including:

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Difficulty lifting or gripping objects
  • Grinding, cracking, or popping of bones
  • Headaches
  • Jaw stiffness and pain
  • Numbness
  • Radiating pain
  • Sharp pain
  • Sleeping issues
  • Tingling
  • Weakness of grip

If you experience neck stiffness after sleeping, read on to learn:

  • The causes of a stiff neck after sleeping.
  • How to relieve your stiff neck (including one way to cure neck stiffness instantly).
  • How to prevent neck pain in the future.

Plus, you’ll learn about a super easy-to-use device that can treat neck pain and stiffness painlessly. Read to the bottom to learn more.

What Causes Neck Stiffness After Sleeping?

No matter when you first start feeling your neck pain or stiffness, there’s always a cause. When you feel neck stiffness first thing upon waking up, you may assume it to be directly caused by an incorrect sleeping position.

But the truth is, neck stiffness after sleeping can be influenced by quite a few factors. Some of these include:

  • Weak or imbalanced muscles: You may have noticed neck pain or stiffness at other times of the day other than first thing in the morning. If that’s the case, your neck pain may be due to weak or injured muscles. This is common in many people today due to chronic sitting positions and poor posture habits. It can be hard to get a better posture, but your body will thank you. The device we share later is great at helping your posture. You should also remember to check your posture throughout the day. Set a timer for every hour to remind you.
  • Injury or stress: Many times neck stiffness is called by a minor or partially healed major injury. In this case, the muscles around the injury tense up in an effort to protect it from further harm. Neck injuries can be slow to heal, especially due to all the stress we hold in our necks. Be sure to give yourself plenty of rest after any major or minor neck injury (and follow some of the effective pain-relief techniques below).
  • Improper sleep position: Sometimes, your neck can be perfectly healthy and you can simply roll off your pillow leaving your neck in a kink. Many times, this will cause an extremely painful form of neck pain that generally subsides quickly. Just be sure to do some stretching exercises and other cures for neck stiffness to heal quickly. You can also follow some of the suggestions for choosing a pillow and sleeping position below that promotes neck support and ensures a good night’s sleep.
  • Sudden movement: Though less common, some people experience jerking or rolling over quickly in their sleep. Sometimes, this can cause soreness or even a minor injury to the muscles and joints in the neck. Though a problem for those with night terrors or other sleeping issues, this isn’t an issue for most people.
  • Unfortunately, knowing the causes of neck stiffness isn’t enough to end it forever. You also have to know what to do when you get it.

    How to Relieve a Stiff and Sore Neck

    When it comes to neck pain relief, there are many options out there and many of them can be effective depending on the specifics of your case.

    You can experiment with a combination of treatments or you can start by using an effective and easy to use cervical traction device (more on that below).

    In addition to treating your neck stiffness, it’s important to stop the source. For example, if stress is the cause of your neck stiffness, then it’s important to take time to relax and unwind.

    Be sure to consult your doctor to make sure the following treatments and neck exercises are safe for you.


    For many people that experience neck pain and stiffness, the first thing they do is stretch their sore neck. This can be effective in the short run, but many people end up yanking on their neck, which can further aggravate the stiffness and increase inflammation.

    But because the yanking causes momentary relief, it can cause a vicious cycle of yanking and stiffness, and could potentially lead to a neck strain. Trust us, don’t yank your neck.

    But you can do some gentle stretching. Some simple stretches for neck strain and stiffness are:

  • Side-to-side: With your head in a neutral position, inhale and turn your head to the left slowly. When you’ve turned as far as you can without straining, hold for 10-20 seconds remembering to breathe. On an exhale, return to your neutral position. Repeat on the right side.
  • Ear-to-shoulder: With your head in a neutral position, inhale lifting your left hand. Place your left hand on the right side of your face and gently allow the weight of your hand to drop your head to the side and give your neck a stretch. You should feel it in the right side of your neck. Make sure to breathe and hold this position for 10-20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
  • Front-to-back: With your head in a neutral position, exhale and drop your chin to your chest. You should feel a stretch on the back of your neck. If you want a deeper stretch, gently place your hands on the back of your head. Breathe and hold for 10-20 seconds.  On an inhale, lift your head up all the way until the back of your head is close to your back. Breathe and hold for 10-20 seconds before returning to neutral on an exhale.
  • If any stretches begin to hurt or feel uncomfortable, stop immediately. If the stretching exercises are comfortable for you, you can do them multiple times or hold them for longer periods.

    But stretching isn’t the only type of movement that will help reduce severe neck pain. Read on to learn some other exercises you can add to your daily routine.

    Range of Motion Exercises

    In addition to stretching the muscles of the neck, you can do some range of motion exercises designed to keep your neck mobile.

    These exercises will keep muscles strong and relaxed, and encourage blood flow to constricted muscles. You can try:

  • Shoulder blade rollers: Standing normally, roll your shoulders up and forward until they began to go down and make a circle. You should feel a slight stretch or tension in your shoulder the entire time, but it shouldn’t be painful. Do this ten times. Now, roll your shoulders back in circles. Do this ten times.
  • Shoulder circles: Stand normally with your hands straight out to the side, palms facing up. Move your arms in small circles backwards. Do this for a count of 10 before switching and circling forward. You can also experiment with larger circles.
  • Neck rotations: Standing with your head neutral, gently roll your head back and then to the left. Let the momentum continue the rotation for a full circle. Do this 3-5 times before switching and rotating the other way.

  • You may have noticed that two of the exercises above were based on increasing range of motion in the shoulders and not the neck. This is because the health and comfort of the neck are largely connected to the health of your shoulders.

    As I’m sure you can guess, the neck rests on the shoulders. So if you have tight or unstable shoulders, the neck can become tight or unstable.

    So if you have a tight neck, it’s a good idea to give your shoulders some attention too.

    Professional or Personal Massage

    It’s been known for centuries that massage can alleviate a lot of the pain and symptoms associated with a stiff neck. The healing effects are due to a few different things.

    First, the pressure of the massage can relieve some of the muscle tension that is so often held in the muscles of our neck.

    In addition, the pressure will stimulate the circulation of blood and lymph, which oxygenates the muscles and speeds recovery.

    You may not always have the time or means to go in and pay for a massage, but you can always perform a self-massage using a personal massager, a tennis or lacrosse ball, or even your hands.

    A great self-massage technique for neck stiffness is to take a tennis ball and place it in between your upper shoulder and a wall. Using the weight of your body, place pressure on the ball and move in small circles.

    Go slow. You should be able to feel some tension in your shoulder, and if done for long enough, some of that tension should melt away.

    Switch sides, then take a break. Feel free to do this as often as you need to achieve relief.

    Cervical Traction

    Remember we mentioned the one way to cure neck stiffness instantly? Well, cervical traction is the answer.

    Cervical traction is a highly effective method used to treat and prevent neck pain. It works by applying a light force, gently pulling the head away from the neck.

    This allows the muscles along the spinal cord to relax and gradually stretch. In doing so, the ligaments around the spine also begin to stretch.

    In addition, cervical traction brings increased blood flow and oxygenation, which will decrease discomfort and aid healing.

    Preventing Neck Pain After Sleeping

    Though treating neck pain is great, stopping neck pain from developing in the first place is the way to go. Using a cervical traction device regularly can help prevent neck pain from appearing in the first place.

    But there are some other things you can do to help prevent neck pain as well. Here are some common tips recommended for preventing neck pain after sleep:

  • Use a high-quality pillow: One of the most important factors when considering neck stiffness after sleep is the effectiveness of your pillow. Getting a high-quality pillow doesn’t always mean you have to buy the most expensive one, it just means you have to find one that works for you. For example, some people like feather pillows because they gently conform to your head. However, feather pillows become flat over time and need to be replaced often. Some pillows are now made with ‘memory foam’ and can provide durability and comfort. The most important thing to remember is to avoid using an extremely stiff or high pillow that forces your head to be flexed up, ensuring an optimal sleeping posture.
  • Change your position: Generally, health professionals agree that you should sleep in one of two positions. Either 1) on your back, or 2) on your side. They disagree over which ones better, but almost everyone agrees that sleeping on your stomach is a bad idea. Experiment with whether sleeping on your back or side is best. Depending on which position you sleep in could also affect the pillow you end up choosing.
  • Avoid sleeping in chairs: If we fall asleep in a chair (watching late-night TV for example), we can often experience neck pain or stiffness. This is because sleeping in a chair can force the neck into unnatural or uncomfortable positions. If you’re forced to sleep in a chair, such as in a car or on a plane, you can bring a small pillow to support your neck. You can also buy a horseshoe-shaped ‘travel pillow’ for additional neck support.

  • Treating Neck Stiffness Every Day

    The fact is that there’s no one-time solution to neck stiffness. Because we demand a lot of our bodies, sometimes our bodies need to rest, and they tell us this by crying out in pain or stiffness.

    But, by incorporating a few of the above measures every day, you can help to prevent neck stiffness before it begins.

    For example, using a cervical traction device daily can ease tension in the muscles that cause neck stiffness, while stimulating blood circulation, oxygenation, and healing.

    Find out more about cervical traction and how it can help treat your chronic neck stiffness.

    If your neck stiffness just won’t go away, read more about when to see a doctor.