How to Tell if Your Pillow Is Causing Your Neck Pain

Waking up with neck pain is experienced by most people at least once. It can come on suddenly and in many instances is caused by sleeping on an inadequate pillow. The best pillow for neck pain will help to keep your spine aligned, airways open, and support your head comfortably.  

The type of pillow you sleep on could make a huge difference to your sleep quality

What Causes Neck Pain When You Wake up? 

Your Pillow

We often jump into bed each night without much thought about our mattress and pillow quality. We become accustomed to our sleep space without realizing it could be causing chronic pain. The type of pillow you sleep on could make a huge difference to your sleep quality. Memory foam pillows may sleep hot but they could be more supportive than a hollow fiber pillow. Contour pillows such as our Nolah Cooling Foam Pillow with AirFoam™ and Nolah Squishy Pillow are cooling and ultra-supportive, keeping your spine aligned for greater sleep comfort. Duck feather pillows could be a comfortable choice too but many report that they can be noisy from the ‘crinkling’ of the feathers.  

Your Sleeping Position 

Your sleep position says a lot about your personality but can also answer some of your health issues. Sleeping on your side may be the best sleep position for your health, it eases acid reflux symptoms, prevents snoring, eases sleep apnea, and is super comfortable. 74% of Americans enjoy side sleeper benefits. Sleeping on your stomach puts strain on your head and neck, especially if you forgo the pillow. Stomach sleepers may benefit from retraining their sleep position to side, back, or at least combi-sleeping. 

Previous Injury or Strain

A previous injury or strain such as whiplash or a sports injury can restart neck pain when sleeping on an uncomfortable pillow. Waking with a stiff or sore neck can occur when sleeping in an uncomfortable sleep position too. If you have a history of previous injury, aim to sleep on your side or back on a cooling foam pillow.  

Sleep Deprivation

Good quality sleep is essential to maintaining physical health and mental wellbeing. Sleep disorders can have you tossing and turning all night, increasing neck pain and denying you valuable sleep. Sleeping allows your body to replenish energy and help you heal from illness and pain. Chronic sleep disorders impact more than your health, it could cause irritability, cognitive decline, decreased concentration, and learning ability. Choosing a pillow that supports the natural curve of your spine and supports your head could ease neck pain and help you sleep better.       

Sudden Movement  

Waking suddenly from sleep or sleep paralysis with a jerk potion could cause an accidental strain. These strains typically do not last long and can be relieved by massaging the strain. If experiencing a sudden neck strain, sit up straight and gently rotate your head in a clockwise and counter-clockwise motion. Lower your chin to your chest and gently tilt your head back to loosen the strain.  

Easy Remedies for Neck Pain 

Improve Your Posture 

Improve your posture by sitting up straight and being careful when lifting things. If slouching your shoulders while working on the computer or watching TV, you could be straining your back muscles that can ignite neck strain.   

Keep Your Computer at Eye Level

Ensure your Laptop or computer is at eye level when using it. When your laptop is resting on your lap, you are forcing your eyes to lower their gaze and in turn, lowers your head, putting strain on your neck and back muscles. This could cause headaches, eye strain, neck pain, and the inability to find a comfortable sleeping position on your pillow.    


Many doctors will say that the best medical advice they can give is to start an exercise program that is enjoyable. Strength training with weights is one of the best exercises to alleviate neck pain. It will strengthen your muscles, keep you strong, and exercise is great to combat sleep disorders too. A gentle exercise like yoga can be equally beneficial as can walking, cycling, or swimming. Any exercise that you find enjoyable can combat neck pain and help you sleep better.  

Take a Hot Bath or Shower 

A hot bath or shower is a great way to loosen tight muscles and ease neck pain from sleeping wrong. A soothing bath or shower can also help you relax and prepare your mind and body for sleep. If you suffer from insomnia or sleep disorder, enjoy a hot bath or shower to destress and relax every muscle. 

Use a Heat Pack

A heat pack is not just for athletes, if you have woken up with neck pain suddenly, a heat pack could help to alleviate symptoms in the same way as a hot bath or shower. The convenience of a heat pack means it can be used anywhere, sitting at your desk, sitting on the train, or relaxing on your couch.   

What is the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?

Finding the right pillow ensures you sleep well and wake up without pain every morning. The best pillow for neck pain will not be too high or too low, it will support your neck comfortably in any sleeping position, and be made of cooling, pressure-relieving foam.  

Pillow Types 

Pillow Type 



Temperature-neutral | supportive 


Breathable | adaptable 


Hypoallergenic | warm 


Affordable | durable 

Down Alternative 

Inexpensive | good if allergic to down

Memory Foam 

Responsive | affordable 

Natural Latex

Biodegradable | durable 


Cooling | firm 


Breathable | soft 


Breathable | affordable 

What Kind of Neck Support Should I Look for From My Pillow?

The best pillow for neck pain will hold your head high enough to keep your spine aligned. It will be made of a cooling, pressure-relieving foam that contours to your every movement. The best pillow for neck support will gently support your head without any painful pushback or sinkage. 

What Firmness of Pillow Will Best Support My Neck?

Pillow firmness comes down to personal preference. While it is recommended to sleep on a pressure-relieving pillow that is cooling. Some people find super soft pillows to be comfortable for them, or slightly firm pillows may suit others. As long as your pillow provides comfort and you do not wake up with neck pain your pillow preference is as personal as your mattress preference.  


Some neck pain can be avoided by switching sleeping positions to a more spine-friendly position such as side or back sleeping. A quality foam pillow could be the respite you need from nasty neck pain. Implementing an exercise routine, especially strength training, can improve your posture and strengthen muscles so you feel stronger too. Ensure your spine is aligned on a good quality mattress and pillow to enjoy better sleep quality and improved health.     

Why is my Pillow Making My Neck Hurt?

Neck pain from an inadequate pillow is caused by strained muscles and a lack of neck support. You could suffer tension headaches from a bad pillow along with neck pain, sleep loss, and irritability. A foam pillow made of breathable and pressure relieving material could provide greater support and better sleep quality. 

How Do I Relieve Neck Pain From a Pillow?

Relieving neck pain from a pillow is easily achieved. The first step is to replace your pillow with a more supportive foam that is breathable and supportive. Take a hot bath or shower to relieve neck tension, do some gentle stretches, or use a heat pack on your neck. Consider upgrading your mattress and pillow for a more pressure-relieving combination.   

Are Pillows Bad for My Neck?

A bad pillow is bad for your neck. If your head is not adequately supported it can cause neck pain and sleep disorder. A supportive pillow allows your head to be elevated enough to keep your spine aligned. Stomach sleepers who forgo the pillow could benefit from retraining to a side or back sleeper position.  

What Is the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?

The best pillow for neck pain is supportive and breathable. When your spine is aligned with a good quality mattress and pillow, you gain better sleep quality and health. If you are suffering from neck strain, upgrade to a good quality foam pillow that elevates your head without pushback or sinkage.   

The Most Important Factors When Choosing a Pillow

A comfortable pillow can make all the difference to your sleep quality. Choose a good foam or down-alternative pillow that keeps your spine aligned. Factor in your sleep position too as side sleepers have different needs to stomach sleepers. A breathable, temperature neutral, and supportive pillow is good for all sleep styles.