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Change Your Sleep Position to Wake Up Pain-Free

July 22, 2021

Feeling stiff and sore in the morning? The way you sleep may be to blame. Some sleep positions can put pressure or strain on your body — particularly the back, neck and shoulders. Finding a comfortable sleeping position that keeps your neck and spine aligned is the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep and a pain-free morning. 

Where You Might Feel Sore and Stiff


Morning back pain is common and is often the result of sleeping positions that put pressure on your spine, causing your back’s natural curve to flatten. Stomach sleepers experience morning back pain more frequently since your stomach sinks into the bed, putting pressure and stress on the joints and muscles in your back.

Many people with morning back pain usually feel better after moving around a bit. If your pain doesn’t go away during the day, you may have an underlying issue, like a slipped or herniated disc that’s exacerbated when you’re sleeping.


If you’ve ever woken up in the morning with shooting neck pain, chances are you strained your neck while sleeping.

Sleeping on your stomach is particularly hard on the neck because your neck may be turned to one side for hours while you sleep, straining the neck muscles. Tossing and turning while sleeping also can create tension in your neck muscles, leading to neck pain. Using an unsupportive pillow or too many pillows is another common cause.


The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body — making it particularly vulnerable to injury and pain, even when sleeping.

Side sleeping is often the culprit for morning shoulder pain. When you sleep on your side, your shoulder bears a lot of your upper body weight. If you sleep with your arm underneath your pillow, this can also pinch your rotator cuff tendon. If you have existing injuries to your rotator cuff or shoulder bursitis, side sleeping can exacerbate these conditions and intensify pain.

Tips for Safer Snoozing

If you’re waking up sore and stiff, it’s likely your spine and neck aren’t in alignment. No matter what your preferred sleep position, stave off soreness and stiffness with these tips.

Back sleepers: Try sleeping with a pillow under your knees or feet to relieve pressure on your lower back. Use a supportive pillow — foam is best — to keep your head, neck and shoulders in alignment while you sleep.

Side sleepers: Pick a pillow that aligns your vertebrae and supports your neck so that you’re not bending your neck toward either shoulder. This will relieve pressure on the shoulder and upper back, as well as avoid the “kinks” you might feel upon waking.

Stomach sleepers: Try placing a pillow under your pelvis for better lumbar and spinal support. For your head and neck, consider switching to a thinner pillow, since the flatter the pillow, the less angled your head and neck will be while you sleep.

Pick a Mattress for Pain-Free Mornings

The firmness or softness of your mattress affects your spinal health, since a mattress that’s too soft can cause the spine to fall out of alignment and can cause your shoulders to curl underneath you, leading to stiffness in the neck and upper back. A mattress that’s too firm can cause joint pressure in the hips, leading to back pain.

Sore or Stiff? Here’s What To Do

Here are a few things you can do at home to reduce your pain so you can get on with your day. 

Stretching. Loosening the painful muscles and ligaments by stretching can help reduce pain and relieve muscle tension. Be sure to move around before you begin stretching (for example, take a walk through the house to get the blood flowing and increase your heart rate) to prevent further pain and injury. 

Heating pad. Using a heating pad may help loosen and relax the muscles, improving your range of motion and reducing pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Taking these over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, can help ease inflammation, pain and stiffness. 

Massage. Gentle massage with hands and fingers or an electric massager can relieve some of the tension and pain in the muscles. 

If your pain persists for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor. They can determine the cause and recommend additional treatments — such as physical therapy or corticosteroid injections — to help you reduce your pain.


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