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Sleeping & Tense Muscles

author image Judy Bruen
Judy Bruen is a private certified personal trainer and wellness coach. She holds dual master's degrees from Boston College in clinical social work and pastoral ministry. She currently works with individuals on fitness, health and lifestyle goals.
Sleeping & Tense Muscles
Certain sleep positions may cause muscle tension. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images

Muscular tension may reduce your quality of sleep or interfere with your sleep cycles. Relaxation techniques, changing your sleep position, massage and stretching may alleviate this type of tension. Identify the factors and causes that contribute to your muscular tension during sleep to help you make changes that reduce your discomfort. Contact your doctor if your tension does not subside after a few weeks.

Head and Neck Tension

Tension headaches cause pain and tightness in your neck, head and scalp muscles. Improper neck alignment while sleeping, staying in a certain sleep position for an extended period of time and sleeping in a cold room may all trigger a tension headache, says MedlinePlus. Neck pain may affect any related muscles, nerves and spinal vertebrae, including your jaw, head, shoulders and upper arms. Sleeping in a position that strains your neck may cause pain and disrupt your sleep.

Muscular Relief

Sleeping on your back may alleviate muscular tension in your neck and surrounding muscles. Sleeping on a pillow that does not elevate your neck above your spine may reduce pulling on your neck and head. Avoiding sleeping on your side or your stomach prevents your neck from staying in a strained position for a prolonged period of time. Sleeping with your hands under your head may cause you to lift your shoulders toward your head, resulting in shoulder and neck tension.

Back Tension and Alleviation

Eight out of 10 people experience back pain, according to MedlinePlus, from muscular tension in your back, neck and hips. Certain sleep positions may alleviate your back pain and prevent muscular tension while asleep. MayoClinic.com recommends reducing tension by sleeping on your side, pulling your knees toward your chest and placing a pillow between your knees. Placing a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back encourages the natural curvature of your spine and may take pressure off of muscles that provide spinal support. Rolling a small blanket and placing it under the small of your back while positioning a pillow under your neck may reduce muscular tension. Placing a pillow under your abdomen may reduce back pain if you sleep on your stomach.


Stretching before bed loosens tight muscles and relaxes them before settling into a sleep position. Shoulder rolls, neck stretches and back stretches all reduce tension. To do shoulder rolls, pull your shoulders behind your back, lift them toward your ears and then push them in front of your body. Switch directions after five circles. To stretch your neck, straighten your spine and gaze forward. Relax your shoulders and lower your left ear toward your right shoulder while pushing your right fingers toward the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides. To stretch your back, lie supine on the floor. Lift your knees toward your chest and wrap your arms around them. Pull your knees toward your chest while keeping your shoulders, head and back on the ground. Stop when you feel a stretch in your back and hold for 30 seconds. Self-massage, a bubble bath or any other form of relaxation may help reduce muscular tension before you go to sleep.

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