Arthritis is a painful condition, and arthritis in the neck can make it quite difficult to get comfortable and get a good night’s sleep. If you are one of the 10.2 million people in the US who are suffering from sleep issues due to arthritis1, try these tips to find a comfortable sleeping position.
Sleeping Positions that Align Your Spine
Your neck is an extension of your spine, and if you are suffering from arthritis you will want to take as much pressure off your neck as possible. This means choosing sleeping positions that are easy on your neck, and also using a pillow that supports the neck and keeps it aligned with the spine.
Sleeping on your side or on your back will help to reduce the strain on your neck2. If you are sleeping on your side, you should aim to have your head in a position that means your nose is aligned with the center of your body3. When sleeping on your back, your neck should be supported properly with your head resting on a slightly flatter pillow.
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Sleeping on your stomach is not ideal for people who are suffering from neck pain. If you are someone who simply cannot sleep in other positions, then you may wish to try using an oval pillow or placing a rolled-up towel under your forehead to elevate your head so that you can sleep face down, rather than turning your head to the side and putting additional strain on your neck.
If you need to sleep in a chair or other upright position, use a travel pillow/neck pillow to stop your head from dropping to the side. This will help to reduce the risk of you waking up with a stiff or painful neck.
A good pillow for arthritis-related neck pain is one that can be shaped to conform to your body, and that is wide enough to support your neck and shoulders. If you sleep on your side, it should also be tall enough to fill in the gap between your ear and the mattress, and firm enough that your head won’t “sink into” the pillow.
Use Good Pillows to Provide Support
Without adequate support from pillows, you will likely find that even sleeping in one of the “correct” positions will not be enough. It is important to choose a pillow that has the right level of firmness, and that is the right height/size for you.
When you are sleeping on your back, you want your head to be in a relaxed position, not strained, and not tilted forwards. When sleeping on your side, your spine should be relatively straight. The pillow is not designed to move your head, but to fill the gap between your bed and your ear/scalp.
Using pillows to maintain good posture while you sleep can be highly beneficial4. Specialist support pillows are available, but there’s no need to spend a fortune on a memory foam arthritis pillow right away. If you already own a feather pillow try folding it or plumping it into the right shape, and see if that is enough to help you get comfortable.
Don’t Neglect Your Posture
Getting a good night’s sleep is definitely a positive thing, but don’t undo all of your good work by messing your neck up during the day. If you are spending your daytimes slouched, hunched over in front of a computer or carrying a heavy messenger bag slung over one shoulder, you will end up with tight traps and stiff, aching shoulders by bedtime.
Any tension and pain in your neck will make it harder to get comfortable at night, and you might find that you hold yourself in unnatural positions while you’re in bed. Try to keep up good posture during the day with your head up and shoulders back. Building good posture habits can improve your overall wellbeing and reduce neck pain.
Exercises to Combat Neck Pain
You can loosen up your neck by doing some gentle exercises such as neck raises and head tilts.
Neck raises involve lowering your head so that your chin touches your chest, then looking up, slowly, raising your head to a neutral position then leaning it slightly back. Head tilts involve looking straight ahead and leaning your head towards one shoulder, then the next.
With each of these exercises, hold the position at the end of each motion (looking down/tilting the head sideways) for five to ten seconds, before moving your head slowly to the next position, and holding your head there too.
Repeat each stretch five times. You can do these exercises throughout the day to keep your neck and traps limber. It’s normal to feel some tension or stiffness when you first start doing thse exercises, but you should not push these (or any) stretches to the point of pain.