Skip to main content

I Slept Funny, Now What?

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTP1 Comment

It’s happened to all of us – you wake up and go to turn your head but then you feel pain. You may not be able to comfortable move your head or neck as a result. Some people have a headache or feel tight across their shoulders. Usually these symptoms resolve in a couple of days but waiting for them to get better can be uncomfortable.

Research estimates we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping.1 Many times neck pain can be related to the position of our neck during sleep; an ideal neck position is in neutral without being bent up too high or too low. Let’s look at some ways to help our necks feel better after a rough night of sleep.

Use Heat

For many people who feel stiff or tight, heat is a good way to help your muscles relax. A hot pack or a warm shower are good options. If you are using a hot pack, make sure you put towel layers between your skin and the pack to prevent your skin from getting too hot. Electric heating pads should not be used while sleeping as it is a safety risk. Use the heat for 10-15 minutes at a time.

Perform Neck Stretches

If you are able to gently stretch your neck, you can try these stretches. Stretches should be performed to your tolerance until a gentle stretch is felt, avoiding sharp pain. If you try any of these stretches and you experience sharp pain, discontinue the exercise(s).

Upper Trapezius Stretch

While keeping your gaze forward, bend your neck so your ear is going toward your shoulder until you feel a stretch in the side of your neck. You can use your hand on top of your head to provide gentle pressure for more of a stretch. Perform on both sides for three repetitions each, holding 20-30 seconds per repetition.

Neck Pain I Slept Funny, Now What?

Levator Scapulae Stretch

Similar to the upper trapezius stretch, bring your head so your ear is going toward your shoulder, once there try to turn your head so you are looking toward your armpit or at a diagonal toward the floor. This stretch should be felt more in the back of the neck or near the top of your shoulder blade. Perform on both sides for three repetitions each, holding 20-30 seconds per repetition.

I Slept Funny, Now What?

Posture Muscle Strengthening

Our upper back muscles between the shoulder blades help us maintain our posture throughout the day. Proper posture can improve neck pain by taking away some of the work the neck muscles are trying to do to hold your head up all day. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the muscles by our shoulder blades to help with posture support.

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

Begin sitting in an upright position with your shoulders relaxed. Try squeezing the shoulder blades together without letting your shoulders rise toward your ears. Try to picture your shoulder blades moving toward each other and down. Your arms can remain relaxed at your sides during this exercise. Perform 10-20 repetitions several times during the day; this exercise is best performed multiple times throughout the day, especially if you are sitting frequently at a desk for work or school.

I Slept Funny, Now What?

Chin Tuck

Sitting or lying down, try to pull your chin back (as if to do a double chin position). Your eyes should stay looking straight ahead. You may feel a stretch in the back of your head or the top of your neck, and you may feel the muscles on the front of your neck working. Hold this position for 5 seconds and perform 10 repetitions. This exercise can also be performed multiple times during the day.

I Slept Funny, Now What? I Slept Funny, Now What?

Tips for Sleeping

  • Avoid using pillows that are too high or too stiff that would keep the neck flexed forward overnight and may cause morning pain or stiffness.
  • Similarly, too flat of a pillow can also place strain on the neck. You should not feel like you are extending the neck backward or have your head tilted up/down bending when lying on your back or side
  • A pillow should allow your nose to align with the center of your body when lying on your side.

If you are experiencing neck pain after a night of sleep, find your closest Athletico for a free assessment.

Schedule a Free Assessment

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Aminoff, Michael J., et al. “We Spend about One-Third of Our Life Either Sleeping or Attempting to Do so.” Handbook of Clinical Neurology Sleep Disorders, 2011, p. vii., doi:10.1016/b978-0-444-52006-7.00047-2.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:
Tara Hackney, a physical therapist in Marion, IA, enjoys working with all patient types, especially gymnasts, cheerleaders, and dancers. She is the prominent blogger for Athletico's Gymnastic/Cheer Program. With an orthopedic specialization and training in dry needling and Graston technique, Tara hopes to answer your questions about injuries and injury prevention in an easy-to-understand manner. She hopes to ease fears surrounding pain and injuries, address concerns about recovery, and provide tips to prevent injury. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dog, reading, and watching her nephews play sports.

Read more health resources related to these topics:

Neck Paini slept funnyi slept wrongmy neck hurtssleep neck pain

1 Comment

  1. Ethan Hansen

    Thanks for mentioning that there are so many stretches and movements you can do to alleviate neck pain. My wife and I have been waking up with large amounts of neck pain that leads to headaches. We’ll be sure to do some stretches as we find a treatment center near us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *