Proper Pillow Position for Sleep

We’ve all woken up with a crick in the neck, angry at our bed. There’s no singular cause to explain this, but sometimes it helps to find a proper pillow position for sleep. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve given hundreds of patients over the years to help stop neck pain and improve sleep.

If your neck is actually stiff, go ahead and give these exercises a try to reduce stiffness and pain.

3 Proper Pillow Positions for sleep to reduce neck pain

  1. Use a Towel Roll
  2. Stop Looking Up
  3. Don’t use a pillow

#1 Sleep with a towel roll to improve your Neck Position

Adding neck support to a pillow is the cheapest and easiest solution to improve your neck position for sleep. You can buy a roll or just roll up a smaller towel and put at the bottom end of the pillow.

The towel will support the normal curves of your neck. You’ll obviously need a smaller one if you sleep on your back, larger for side sleeping.

Make sure the towel is the entire length of the pillow.

position your neck with a towel roll for sleep
Pre-made or just roll up a towel

#2 Don’t look up when you sleep

how pillow position can affect sleep
these are the same head positions

Turn your head to the side. From this position, look up. Now stay here for 8 hours. How long until neck pain starts?

I discovered this on accident evaluating a patient with neck pain. She was laying on her back, head resting on a pillow, experiencing neck pain. I noticed she had her head turned towards me, but was looking up, not to the side (see above)

I had her lower her chin and she immediately felt better. Her homework was to identify all the times she did this throughout the day. She found out she was always in this position – sleep, driving, walking.

I didn’t even really need to do treatment, just reduce how much she was looking up in this position. Not surprising, her pain quickly went away.

Obviously nothing is wrong with this position, but laying on your pillow like this can increase your neck pain if you are already sensitive.

#3 Sleep without a pillow

no pillow, can't be blamed for bad sleep or neck pain
This is not a real person

This is extreme but I played around with no pillow for a few months and it’s actually pretty comfortable.

Makes sense, you can’t blame your pillow for pain if you aren’t using one.

This is obviously more comfortable if you sleep on your back. Ultimately the best position for me was to rest my head on the side of the pillow (see below). So i was laying flat with the pillow next to me keeping my head from moving.

lay on the side of the pillow to support the neck
The pillow is physical and emotional support

Pillows and Neck Pain

It’s seems illogical that the most relaxing thing we can do (sleeping) causes pain, but we’ve all woken up with a stiff neck and had nothing other to blame than our bed. I’ve personally had success with these tips for my patients and myself. Combined with general neck strengthening, they will likely help you too.

Now that you’ve addressed some pain, lets actually fix your neck with a proper rehab program