How do I keep from messing up my neck & shoulders in my sleep?
February 27, 2011 6:31 AM   Subscribe

How do I keep from messing up my neck & shoulders in my sleep?

After a very stressful couple of weeks at work my neck and shoulders are all out of whack. If my neck muscles get any tenser I think I'll go down as the first person who's neck snapped itself.

I'm doing stretches, using heat packs, pain killers, ben gay... I even got the massage therapist at work to give me a massage. But I think I'm still getting all tense in my sleep and undoing any good I do during the day. Is there anything I can do to keep from hunching my shoulders and getting all tense in my sleep?
posted by Caravantea to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I used to have a terrible sore neck when I woke up; recently, I bought one of those hard memory-foam pillows just to try it out.

It's odd; they're uncomfortable as hell when I'm awake, but I sleep like a dead man and wake up fine.
posted by mhoye at 6:41 AM on February 27, 2011

Seconding mhoye on the memory foam pillow. When I was having neck-and-shoulder troubles in my sleep a few years ago, my ex bought me one and it was terrible - but when I went shopping for one myself and unabashedly tried them out in the middle of Sears by lying on the floor and seeing which was most comfortable, I wound up with something I'll fight to the death over.
posted by kitarra at 6:52 AM on February 27, 2011

Seconding memory foam pillow. I have a herniated disc so my neck and shoulders are pretty much always tense, if I sleep on anything but a shaped memory foam pillow I am in a world of hurt. You do have to replace them pretty regularly, though.
posted by biscotti at 6:52 AM on February 27, 2011

Me too! My entire left side (base of skull down side of neck, around shoulder down to mid-back) is a disaster. I do it when I sleep and it gives me muscle tension headaches all the damn time. Awful, awful, awful. I bought a large memory foam pillow (not a contoured one, just a giant, stiff, rectangular pillow) and it's helped SO much. An issue for me was sleeping position- since my old pillow was so flat, I'd sleep on my side with my arm under my pillow. Not good.

Another thing to be aware of is how you're treating the muscles during the day. Since my neck/shoulder/back started bothering me, I'd been unconsciously holding my left shoulder up way higher than my right. I work a desk job, and I developed a really strange typing position without even noticing it. In addition to that, when working on the computer and NOT typing, I'd prop my chin up with my left arm. Also: not good. The best advice I can give you (aside from a new pillow) is to be aware of how you're sitting/standing/moving during the day, and take a moment here and there to consciously relax.

Do you take sleeping pills? I had to stop mine because it kept me sleeping so deeply I frequently spent the night in awful contortionist positions. Worth a shot. Hope you feel better soon!
posted by kella at 6:52 AM on February 27, 2011

Oh hello, you are me! Our workstation assessment guy at work said to me "yeah yeah people think they do something wrong in their sleep, but it's all muscle memory from the crap they're doing during the day".

Can't vouch for the medical truth of this, all I can say is that my mornings have been much better since I started swimming. Has helped with the headaches too. (substitute with other light exercise as desired, tho swimming really is the best IMHO)

I'd also make sure you're in the best possible position at work - having a workstation assessment and getting a chair tailored to my needs helped tremendously in my previous job (Unfortunately not so much in my current one).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 6:59 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have the same issue. I've found some relief by taking 1mg melatonin at night, right before bed.

Also, could you be cold at night? I find if I'm cold, I curl up into a ball and tense my neck and shoulders. When I put another layer of blanket on the bed, I don't curl up so much.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:01 AM on February 27, 2011

Nthing the pillow....if my pillows aren't just right, I can't sleep or I wake up in pain. I've also discovered that when I cook and do dishes that I tend to hunch over a bit which leaves me in pain.

Also, for the soreness in the meantime, I've found nothing better than Tiger Balm.
posted by nevercalm at 7:07 AM on February 27, 2011

Acupuncture. Stress causes muscle tightness, that over time, causes the trigger points in the neck and shoulders to become spastic. Call several acupuncturists in your area and ask if they can specifically treat trigger points.

It took me several tries to find the right person. If you're in or around Philly, I can recommend two.

Good luck.
posted by johnn at 8:17 AM on February 27, 2011

My one piece of advice is to use ICE. You mention heat, which is what most people use because it sounds logical and it feels good. However ice is the only thing that helps me. You really need a thick one (not the whimpy ones they have at the drugstore). I ice every night for 20 minutes before bed (usually while reading - they say not to lie on it but it's fine). If I don't ice, my neck feels horrible the next day.
posted by radioamy at 8:32 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know how to prevent it, but I find that keeping myself loaded with ibuprofen (i.e., two every four hours, all day) significantly speeds my recovery.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:34 AM on February 27, 2011

I went through a series of pillows trying to help with my neck and back problems. That included several shaped memory foam pillows, but they never worked out for me even after months of trying to get used to it. I found that where I wanted firm support under my neck it would soften too much and where I wanted soft support under my head would remain to hard.

A buckwheat hull pillow was great though. It only took a couple days to get used to and my sleep and neck improved a lot. It's sort of the opposite of memory foam. It's soft under light pressure, but firms up under heavier pressure. So it will instantly form to the shape of your head and neck and then not give any more. It can be easily fluffed up or flattened out to get it to the right height. There are various sellers on in the interwebs and as far as I can tell they all sell basically the same thing.
posted by dodecapus at 8:51 AM on February 27, 2011

What often works for me is sleeping without a pillow - it's uncomfortable as hell and feels all wrong, but it makes my neck pain go away!
posted by The Toad at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

What often works for me is sleeping without a pillow - it's uncomfortable as hell and feels all wrong, but it makes my neck pain go away!

Yeah, this too! Depends on how you sleep tho. I like to fall asleep on my side (with a nice big pillow), but then quickly turn onto my back, which results in a really uncomfortable position with my chin jammed against my chest. Uncomfortable pillowless falling asleep results in a much better position once I'm on my back.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:11 AM on February 27, 2011

Can't believe no one's mentioned yoga yet...I also have massive issues with tight upper back-neck-shoulders due to stress and work position. Memory foam pillow has helped a lot (but make sure you're realllly tired when going to bed, because it is so uncomfortable when awake!).

But truly after a day of being tense and stressed, yoga is the ticket. Especially warm or hot yoga, so your muscles can relax easier. If you've never done yoga before, or haven't for a while, it may take a little bit to discover the benefits and find release, but once you do, there is no replacement. Positions that I find best for upper back/neck tension include super-easy basics like forward fold and downward dog (make sure you really let your head and upper body hang in these poses), and others like threading the needle and plow pose.
posted by angab at 11:20 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I found a memory foam pillow helps along with a pillow between my knees when I sleep. I guess it's supposed to keep your spine better aligned or something. It works when I sleep on my side. When my neck and shoulders are fucked up I also have to stop carrying a messenger bag and use a dorky backpack with a belt. The belt is to take the weight from my shoulders and makes a big difference even if I'm just shlepping a laptop and a few assorted things. For me exercise really helps too.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:24 AM on February 27, 2011

Several general suggestions for neck pain:

1) Be conscious of ergonomics during the day. I find that my neck pain goes crazy when my monitor is even a few inches too low.

2) Work out your back. If your upper back muscles are too weak, they tense up more to hold your head up. Heads are heavy, make sure the muscles are strong enough. This alone has removed most of the pain I used to have. (Dumbbell rows & such).

3) Sleep on your back, or a well supported side pillow. Sleeping on your stomach will screw you up, since your head is cocked to the side.

Basically - the pain may be most noticeable in the morning after sleeping, but that doesn't mean it's sleep induced. Fix ergonomics and get stronger, and you'll notice the pain going down.

Note, I'm speaking only from my own experience. But this has helped me out a bunch.
posted by cschneid at 11:28 AM on February 27, 2011

Get rid of your pillows. Or only place them around your body instead of under your head. And sleep on your back if you can.
posted by dchrssyr at 12:34 PM on February 27, 2011

Memory foam mattress topper.

Also, how do you sleep? Sleeping on my side is more likely to result in neck/shoulder soreness than sleeping on my back.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:45 PM on February 27, 2011

If you think it might be related to jaw tension working its way down to your neck and shoulders, try a bite guard. My dentist recommended one and its helped with jaw/neck/shoulder tension throughout the day.
posted by ldthomps at 2:04 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ditto-ing the memory foam pillows.

I bought mine from a physiotherapist, and it was worth it because he advised which of the three memory foam pillow types was most suitable for my build.

(They come in low, medium, and high pillow height.)

I also find taking 600mg of Magnesium (in tablet form, I take Fusion Health Magnesium Advanced) at bedtime helps with my muscle tension/cramps/pain - magnesium is a muscle relaxant.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 3:22 PM on February 27, 2011

Allow me to recommend the Adjustable Memory Foam pillow.
posted by Jezebella at 7:47 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

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