It can be painful to wake up with a stiffened neck. You may not be able even to turn your neck without pain. A stiff neck may not bother you for a few hours but it can be excruciatingly painful in the morning. It’s not a good way to start your day.

The good news is, you can solve this problem by simply changing your pillow. Stiffness can be caused by awkward neck positions, muscle tension, and poor sleeping posture. Your pillow could be the culprit if it doesn’t support your neck and head correctly. The wrong pillow can aggravate neck pain, even if it was caused by a sports injury.

The best pillow will help you sleep and wake up pain-free.

Sleeping causes stiff neck? Pillow guide for pain-free sleep

To sleep comfortably, you must first determine your sleeping style. The best mattress is one that cushions and supports your body based on the position in which you sleep. Choosing a pillow based on your sleep style is the key to pain-free sleeping.

(Image credit: Courtesy Nate Berkus & mDesign

Is your pillow at fault?

Your pillow may be the cause of a stiff neck when you wake up. Pillows need to be adapted to your weight, size, and sleeping style. If the pillow you are using is not right for you, it’s no wonder you’re in pain. Dr. Kevin Lees , director at The Joint Chiropractic , explains that pillows that are not sized correctly or have lost support can cause a stiff neck.

If your pillows are no longer fluffy and have lost shape, they may not support your neck as effectively as they used to. Your current pillows, even in good condition, may be the culprit. You can tell if you have a stiff neck by your sleeping style.

  • Back Sleepers: When you lie in bed and find yourself ‘looking down at your feet instead of the ceiling, it could be that your pillow is too dense,’ explains Lees. ‘Forcing your neck to forward.’ If your neck is sagging and you are having trouble breathing, your pillows may be too flat.
  • Side sleepers If your “shoulder falls forward” in bed, your pillow is too low. Lees says that the pillow should be positioned as if it were standing up and not folded under you. This will allow your head to reach the pillows. If your ear is pushed against your shoulder by your pillow, it could be too thick. Both of which can cause upper back pain and a stiff neck. He states.
  • Front Sleepers:Stomach Sleepers will either turn the head to sleep, or bury it face-down in a pillow. If your pillow is not at the right height, it can cause severe neck pain. If your pillow is too thick, it will push your neck away from the spine. Front sleepers are advised to sleep without a pillow or with a very thin pillow.

Dr. Kevin Lees D.C

The Joint Chiropractic

(Opens in new tab).

Kevin Lees, D.C., a chiropractor who has spent more than 20 years in the clinic, joined The Joint Corp. in 2020 as Manager of Auditing and Quality and was promoted Director of Chiropractic Operations by 2023. Dr. Kevin received his Doctor of chiropractic from Cleveland University Kansas City in 2000.

How to choose the right pillow for you

You should consult a physician if you are experiencing severe and persistent neck pain. A pillow can make you more comfortable. However, a doctor may be able identify and treat any underlying causes.

If you want to find the best pillow to relieve a stiff neck, it is important to choose the one that fits your sleep style and size. James Leinhardt (opens in new tab), sleep and posture expert and founder of Levitex (opens in new tab), states that ‘the pillow we sleep on is not a one-size-fits-all-approach’. Choose a pillow that is appropriate for your size and sleeping position. When lying down, the head should be in a neutral position and not pushed forward, to the back, or sideways, says Lees.

Side sleepers will generally choose medium loft pillows to fill the gap created by the shoulders between the bed and the head. Front sleepers can use a thin, soft, pillow to cushion the neck and relieve pressure. Back sleepers should use a firm, thinner pillow to prevent the head from sinking or lifting.