Home / Blog October 10, 2023

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What To Do When You Wake Up With Neck Pain and Can’t Turn Your Head

If you wake up with neck pain and can’t turn your head, it’s likely related to poor sleeping posture or a strain that occurred during the day. Poor-fitting pillows are often the cause as they can put the neck in a bad position. In most cases, the pain will dissipate over the course of a day or two.

What To Do When You Wake Up With Neck Pain and Can’t Turn Your Head


Neck pain in the morning can be caused by poor sleeping posture or daytime injuries that catch up with you during sleep.

Proper-fitting pillows can help prevent kinks in the neck from sleeping.

If you wake up with neck pain, consider icing the painful area and trying gentle stretches if they don’t cause pain. 

Did you know?
Humans have more than 20 muscles in the neck that are responsible for everything from stabilizing and moving the head to facial expressions and chewing.

Fell asleep on the couch while binging your favorite TV show and woke with a sore neck? Slept just fine in your own bed but are dealing with the same issue?

If you wake up with neck pain and can’t turn your head, it can be a massive inconvenience, not to mention a bit alarming. Being able to turn your head is crucial, after all.

Fortunately, the root cause in most cases is either a matter of how you slept or how you went about your day, and there are plenty of simple treatments to get you on your feet.

Why Is My Neck So Stiff When I Wake Up?

For some people, waking up with a stiff neck and even a headache in certain cases is common. For others, the problems start suddenly one morning for seemingly no reason at all. Either way, the result is pain during the day which can then seep into the night, making sleep difficult.

There’s a mountain of potential reasons, but in most cases people end up with a kink in their neck from sleeping itself. Or more specifically, the way they sleep can strain the soft tissue in the area.

Why Is My Neck So Stiff When I Wake Up?

Using the Wrong Pillow

First in the lineup of potential neck pain villains is your pillow. There’s a right way to sleep on a pillow, and there are also several pillow types, some of which may support the neck in your preferred sleeping style better than others.

The basics of proper pillow fitting are as follows:

  • Side sleepers do best with something on the thicker and firmer side to prevent the neck from drooping.
  • Back sleepers are more suited to a medium-sized pillow that maintains a neutral, standing neck posture.
  • Stomach sleepers may not need a pillow at all, and if they do use one, it should be thin. However, stomach sleeping already leaves your neck and back vulnerable and should be avoided if possible. 

Poor Sleeping Position or Environment

Next, if you “slept funny and your neck hurts,” it may be because of the first part of that sentence. Drooling in an armchair in front of the TV or snoozing in a lawn chair while relaxing outside can quickly put the neck in a bad position. Add time to the equation and you can strain the neck.

The same can happen in the bedroom sometimes, particularly if you tend to move around a lot in your sleep.

Posture Issues or Injuries

Sometimes the knots and kinks occur in bed, but other times they’re a symptom of a waking problem. If you have a job that requires repetitive movements or positions, listen up.

Poor posture while doing things like deskwork or manual labor can plant painful seeds in the bones and joints, and sometimes those seeds can worsen when stuck in the same position throughout the night.

Other Medical Issues

Finally, there are a number of more serious issues that could lead you to waking up with a sharp pain in the neck. These include, but aren’t limited to:

Herniated discs, especially, could lead to an imobile neck while the others may be more likely to feel like a lingering, burning pain. If you’re experiencing pain that lasts for more than a few days or frequently returns, it could be a medical issue like one of these.

How To Avoid Waking up With a Stiff Neck and Shoulders

If you’ve woken up with neck pain multiple times, it may be a good idea to start looking for solutions. Here’s a checklist that you can go through in order:

1. Take stock of your waking routing and whether or not posture-related problems or injuries could be at play. If they are, consider rehabilitation or lifestyle changes like getting up from your desk and stretching more.

2. Consider changing your pillow. If you have a pillow that isn’t the right size for your body or sleeping style, the troubles are more likely to come back.

3. Be careful with your sleep environment. Avoid falling asleep anywhere other than in your bed and consider trying sleep supports like our Cuddler body pillow. There are several ways to use one depending on your preferred sleep style, all of which may help support a natural posture.

4. If you’re continually waking up with a stiff neck and shoulders, think about seeing a medical professional.


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Remedies for Neck Pain After Sleeping

In most cases, if you’ve slept on your neck wrong and can’t turn your head, the discomfort is a result of strained soft tissue in the area. There are three basic treatments that you can try depending on your situation:

  1. For symptom relief, consider anti-inflammatories. They can help bring the swelling down which may lead to faster healing and reduced pain.
  2. Try icing the area after waking to bring any swelling down and if the pain goes away but there’s some tightness, try applying heat via hot packs or a bath.
  3. If you’re not in too much pain, you can try gentle shoulder and neck stretches to supply blood to the area and speed up recovery. The key is to avoid causing any pain with these exercises.

Remedies for Neck Pain After Sleeping


How Long Can Your Neck Hurt After Sleeping on It Wrong?

If your neck problems stem from sleeping on it wrong, they tend to clear up within a couple of days. However, it can be a longer process for some people if the root cause is injury related or if they’re older and take more time to recover.

Be patient with the recovery and avoid any painful movements. If things don’t start getting better within a few days (even if it’s slow progress), consider seeing a doctor.


If you wake up with neck pain and can’t turn your head, the cause may be related to either your posture during the day or during sleep. Whether you injured your back at work or you’re trying a new pillow at night, an unnatural position while sleeping can add extra strain to your neck and shoulders.

You can fight this by avoiding poor posture throughout the day and by getting a pillow that suits your sleeping style. Body pillows like our Cuddler can also help keep your body in a comfy position at night, leaving you fresh come morning.