Pain-free Living Blog with Julie Donnelly

Your Sleeping Position Can Be The Cause of Headaches!

Why Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Headaches

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

Your spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane. so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

Your sleeping position can cause headaches because the cervical vertebrae shift and press on your spinal cord.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine  published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shorten to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure onto your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and Headaches

Headaches caused by your sleeping position can be caused by muscles pulling on your cervical vertebrae, just like pulling your hair will hurt your skull. The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.

As your head is tilted up, your spine presses into your spinal cord and will cause headaches from this sleeping position.

For example, If you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping position causes headaches when falling asleep at your desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk. The pictures above show a strain on the neck by falling asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

Good sleeping position keeps your neck and spine straight and prevents headaches

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.

Sleeping on Your Back

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

sleeping on your stomach is the worst sleeping position for headaches and moreStomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.

Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

All of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief…

how to self-treat an important muscle that causes headaches. Put a ball into the top of your shoulder, and then press your shoulder into a door frame or corner of a wall

Take either a tennis ball, or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep, and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

Wishing you well,

Signature of Julie Donnelly - The Pain Relief Expert

Posted by Julie Donnelly in Neck Pain, Uncategorized.

 

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