How should I sleep with neck arthritis?

Posted in Neck Pain Disorders on Oct 12, 2021

One of the most difficult things for people with neck arthritis is finding a comfortable position to sleep. Finding the right position can be hard enough even if you don’t have arthritis! Plus if you aren't sleeping well, it makes everything worse! When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep if you have neck arthritis, there are a few things that you will want to keep in mind:

  • Your pillow
  • Your position
  • Your platform
  • Your posture

Even as we go through these examples, we need to let you know in advance that there is no one right way to sleep with neck arthritis. Granted, there are plenty of wrong ways (!), but at the end of the day, you have to find the combination that works the best for you. We simply hope these principles may save you a lot of fo time and money!

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Pillows for sleeping with neck arthritis In principle, I advocate a one thin, soft organic pillow … or none at all! When your sleep, your shoulder tends to sink in the mattress with your bodyweight no matter what position you are in. Unfortunately, so many people who sleep with thick pillows or more than one pillow, it pushes their heads too far forwards or upwards. Even if you have very broad shoulders, multiple pillows often kink your head too high,

Imagine that you are working and slouching in front of a computer all day how that can cause headaches, migraines, vertigo, neck pain, shoulder pain, and even low back pain. Well, when your pillow causes you to stick your head too far forward at night, it can disrupt your sleep and also aggravate your neck if you have neck arthritis. Your ears are supposed to align straight over your shoulders both when you are lying down and also when you are sitting and standing up. 

But ever 2.5cm forward, the effective weight of your head double the strain on the joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves in your neck. Even if you are lying down, this same pressure exists. This is why we advocate as thin of a pillow as possible, or even none at all! It is because sleeping this way prevents your head from pushing too far forwards when you sleep and can cause pain and other problems, especially if you have neck arthritis. 

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Position for sleeping with neck arthritis

On your back is best. On your side is also okay. Flat on your stomach is bad. This one goes hand and hand with your pillow whether or not you have neck arthritis and try to sleep well. Sleeping on your stomach twists your neck, which is one of the worst things that you can do to aggravate neck arthritis. Simply put, don’t do it!

Sleeping on your back usually isn’t a problem here unless your pillow is too thick, so go back to the previous section on the best types of pillows for sleeping with neck arthritis. Sleeping on your side is where people with neck arteries can get into trouble when sleeping. The funny thing is because you are probably using your pillow incorrectly if that is the case!

Remember what we said about pushing your head too far forwards aggravating neck arthritis and causing headaches and neck pain? If you sleep on your side in the fetal position, you will have the tendency to curl into a ball, which causes your head to stick too far forward on the pillow. So even if you have the correct height with your pillow, your position can still aggravate things.

My suggestion is that you position your shoulder towards the front of your pillow, not in the middle! This one little change prohibits your head from moving too far forwards while you sleep on your side, and can be one of the simplest little hacks that can help with headaches and neck pain when you sleep at night if you have neck arthritis. 

A platform for sleeping neck arthritis

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By platform, I am referring to your mattress. In brief, I advocate that when purchasing a mattress that you select one that is ever so slightly too firm. Indeed, in a perfect world, we would actually all be capable of sleeping on a firm surface like the floor (… isn’t that how our ancestors would have slept?).

That said, even I don’t do that. Still, as a general rule as it relates to muscle tone, the firmer the surface that we are capable of sleeping on, the better with the overall strength of our body, even when we sleep.  Yes, it can absolutely make your body achy and uncomfortable, like having a workout, if you are not used to it. And if you have bad enough neck arthritis or other pains and it is so hard that it is actually stopping you from sleeping altogether, you may not want to go too hard.

Fortunately, that is the advantage of having a firm mattress. You can always put an extra cushion or something over the top of it to absorb the stress and make it softer to support your neck arthritis so that it does not cause pain. On the other hand, if your mattress is too soft, alas, there is nothing you can do to make it firmer, and you are stuck. So as a general guideline, the firmer the mattress that you are able to tolerate, the better!

Posture for sleeping with neck arthritis 

Last but certainly not least, your posture may have something to do with your challenges sleeping with neck arthritis. Your posture is not a matter of laziness. It is a reflection of the structure and alignment of your spine beneath the surface. Therefore, if you have a notable problem with your posture when you are sitting or standing upright, these same problems can follow you even when you lie down to sleep. 

Your posture can be a sign that you have a mechanical alignment problem with your neck that may actually be responsible for your neck pain, headaches, and even neck arthritis … and your sleeping habits may simply be the things that are making the problem worse. In other words, the problem may not be with your sleeping pillow, position, or platform at all! Unlike the other pieces of the puzzle that you may be able to trial for yourself, this one requires getting an expert opinion on the alignment of your neck to determine if a problem here may actually be contributing to your sleeping troubles.

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One of the most qualified healthcare professionals who may be able to help you is known as a Blair upper cervical doctor, which is a unique type of chiropractor who focuses on the relationship between the vertebrae in your neck and the function of the nerves in your body. Unlike general spinal manipulation, a Blair upper cervical doctor does not twist or crack the neck. Therefore, even if you do have neck arthritis, Blair upper cervical care is still a gentle and viable option for you.

If you would like more information on Blair's upper cervical care or how we may be able to assist you, we would like to hear from you. Atlas Health Australia is the leading upper cervical healthcare center in Brisbane. Our mission is to help people with chronic health conditions including neck arthritis find long-term solutions so that they can enjoy the quality of life that matters most to them. Our principal, Dr. Jeffrey Hannah, is an advanced certified Blair chiropractor.

If you would like to schedule a no-obligation consultation with Dr. Hannah to find out if Blair's upper cervical care may be right for you, you can reach us at 07 3188 9329 or click the Contact Us link on this page.

Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing, and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out.”

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