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Proper Sleeping Positions for the Neck

author image Chris Blank
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.
Proper Sleeping Positions for the Neck
A woman waking up in the morning. Photo Credit: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images

People spend a significant portion of their lives in bed. Without a proper night's sleep, it's difficult to function properly. Improper sleeping positions can place tremendous strain on the body, resulting in back and neck pain. Adopting proper sleeping positions can prevent neck pain, whether sleeping on the back, on the side or face down.

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Sleeping on Your Back

When sleeping on the back, maintaining proper neck support and spine alignment is essential. Place a pillow under the knees or a lumbar roll under the lower back, the Cleveland Clinic advises. A feather pillow that conforms to the shape of the head and neck is also advisable, according to the Harvard Medical School. Sleep on a firm mattress. For a mattress that is too soft, place a 1/2 inch thick slab of plywood between the mattress and box spring to add firmness, recommends.

Terri Trespicio, senior editor for "Body+Soul" magazine, interviewed by the "Early Show" on, recommends sleeping on the back without a pillow. This allows the body to rest in its natural alignment, Trespicio explains. A pillow that is too thick can force the neck forward, causing neck pain.

Sleeping on Your Side

When sleeping on your side, use a pillow that is higher under the neck than under the head, Harvard Medical School advises. Placing a pillow between the knees is also advisable, according to Chip Abbadessa, a chiropractor interviewed in "Midweek" magazine.

Resting your head on your arm while sleeping on your side is problematic, according to Trespicio. Placing that much weight on your arm creates stress that can cause numb fingers by morning. The muscles on the shoulder resting on the mattress also suffer compression and strain, Trespicio says.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

Sleeping face down holds the most potential for causing neck pain. Sleeping on the stomach throws the entire body out of alignment, causing headaches, chronic back pain and shallow breathing, according to Jonathan FitzGordon, an alignment specialist based in New York City, quoted by "Body+Soul" magazine. Sleeping on your stomach also restricts the intake of oxygen to the brain, Abbadessa says.

However, sleeping on the stomach may be helpful for patients with a degenerative disease or those with herniated disks near the center of the spine, according to If sleeping in any other position is impossible, invest in a body pillow, advises New York City chiropractor Lisa Kirsch. Sleeping with a pillow under the pelvis also relieves stress on the spine while sleeping on the stomach, according to

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