Head hurt when you lay down on your pillow? 3 sleep positions to avoid, if you suffer

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  • More 'ouch' than 'Zzz...'

    My head hurts when I lay down on my pillow: help!  

    So, can you get a headache from sleeping wrong? Short answer: yes.

    If you’re struggling from depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health conditions, these could all be contributing to both your sleep issues and your headaches, too.

    What’s the best sleeping position to avoid headaches?

    “Sleeping on your front can cause headaches as your back is arched,” explains doctor Adegoke. As she points out, your neck is twisted in that position. “Sleeping on your back or on your side is better for the alignment of your spine,” she shares.

    Essentially, the best position is called ‘the corpse.’ Yes, just imagine you’re lying in a coffin (cheery visual, we know). Lying on your back is the best position to sleep in as it keeps your spine straight and blood flowing.

    If you’re a snorer, this position might be tricky for you, so consider sleeping on your side as straight as you possibly can and don’t elevate your neck too much.

    Can the type of pillow I use cause headaches? 

    Oh yep. The type of pillow you opt for can also contribute to your pain, shares the doctor.

    “Pillows are intended to help with the alignment of your head and neck and relax the neck muscles when you are asleep,” she explains.

    Do this: Make sure you’re supporting your head and neck in a neutral position. “Pillows minimise any stresses or pressure on your neck that lead to compromise of pain-sensitive structures, which in turn cause waking symptoms such as neck pain and stiffness, headaches, shoulder or arm pain,” she shares.

    Our guides to the best mattresses, weighted blankets, and sleep masks may help.

    Can sleeping wrong cause headaches? A woman clutches her head after waking up with a headache holds her hands over her ears

    Is there such thing as a migraine sleep position? 

    The type of headaches caused here are tension headaches, according to doctor Adegoke. “Commonly known as a stress headache, this type of headache causes a band-like tightness and pressure across the forehead, temples, and back of your head,” she explains.

    It can also cause tenderness in the scalp neck and shoulder muscles.

    If you struggle from migraines, as above, make sure you’re sleeping on your back or on your side. They’re the best positions, generally speaking, to support your body through sleep sans pain.

    Which sleeping positions should I be wary of? 

    This position makes you twist your head and neck in an unnatural way so, again, brings on tension.

    3. Putting your arm over your head

    Putting your arm over your head can cut off circulation and put pressure around your nerves, disrupting blood flow.

    How do I prevent myself from getting morning headaches?

    1. Identify and control triggers

    Sleep posture isn’t the only thing that causes morning headaches, shares doctor Adegoke. “The most important thing to do is to identify the cause, treat it, and then avoid any triggers,” she explains.

    Other triggers include:

    • Jaw clenching/grinding teeth
    • Alcohol
    • High caffeine intake
    • Some medications
    • Excess screen time.

    2. Practice good sleep hygiene

    Not sure what that means? Good sleep hygiene is making sure that your sleep habits are helping, not preventing you, from drifting off.

    Try the following, advises the doctor:

    • Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day
    • Avoid napping during the day
    • Avoid drugs, alcohol, and large meals before bedtime
    • Avoid caffeine for six hours pre-bedtime
    • Exercise regularly: aim for 30 minutes a day, no later than 5 hours before bed
    • Avoid screen time 90 minutes before bed
    • Make the bedroom a place for sleeping only (sunrise alarm clocks will help)
    • If you can’t sleep, get up and go to another room.

    3. Try changing your pillow or position

    “While sleeping positions are often set and difficult to change, sleeping on your side or back is better than sleeping on your stomach,” explains the doctor.

    Do this: Avoid hard or stiff pillows. If you sleep on your stomach, try a flatter pillow. If sleep on your back, choose an ergonomic pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck, she advises.

    4. Try occasional pain relief

    Not so keen on medicating? Know that, sometimes, it can help – when relied on in moderation.

    “Simple over-the-counter medication, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, when used occasionally, can help with headaches,” explains doctor Adegoke.

    Do note here, though, that continuous use of painkillers – that’s any longer than two weeks – can be counter-intuitive. Which leads us on to the next point nicely…

    6. Know when to seek help

    If your headaches aren’t settling with the simple measures outlined above, do seek help from a specialist, the expert recommends. “They can take a look through your medical history to try to understand the cause of your headaches, as well as suggesting other treatments,” shares the doctor.

    You need never Google, “my head hurts when I lay down on my pillow” again…

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