Cervical Collar Sleeping: 5 Things You Need to Know

Sleeping in a cervical collar felt impossible. Then, I figured out some tricks. Here are five tips to improve your cervical collar sleeping experience.

Here are 5 tips to help you with cervical collar sleeping.

A while ago, I broke my neck while playing baseball with my kids. (Yes, I’m just that good.) In the time that I’ve been healing from my injury, I have made several observations about changes I can make to positively impact my comfort, health, and happiness. In particular, I have tried to master cervical collar sleeping.

Many people have difficulties sleeping as it is. Let me tell you, there was a learning curve, but I feel like I’ve mastered it.

Additionally, I’ve tried to make my tips universal, so you don’t have to have a broken neck to benefit from these tips.

If you want to learn all my tips for broken neck recovery, check out my book, Snapped:  A Helpful Guide for Broken Neck Recovery.

Cervical Collar Sleeping

1. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.

As your shoulders tense, they push against the neck brace. This will push against your jaw and create a mild traction for your cervical spine. This hurts.

As you feel your shoulders tense and raise toward your ears, slide them down. Rock side to side so that you can get your shoulder blades in the correct neutral position on your back. When your shoulder blades are slightly pinned on your back, they will be less likely to raise and become a problem.

2. Plan for comfortable sleeping on your back.

Doctors say that it’s best for people to sleep on their backs. With a broken neck, back sleeping is definitely your best option. Since this will be your main sleeping posture, come up with some ideas of ways you can change positions but still be on your back.

For example, you might work on bending one or both knees. Right after I broke my neck, this was my preferred modification. I was so tired that my feet stayed firmly anchored while I slept. My bent knees were enough of a change that my body could easily sleep this way.

You might also think of having pillows as props. For me, pillows tend to be an obstacle, so I didn’t go this route.

3. Make sure you have the correct pillow for your sleeping style.

use pillows to help you with cervical collar sleeping

If you are stable enough that you think you could sleep on your side, make sure you have a pillow plan. For example, back sleepers need a very thin pillow. With this sleep style, you’re really just looking for something to support your cervical curve in your neck. For side sleepers, though, you need quite a bit more pillow.

To determine how thick your pillow needs to be, roll completely onto your side. Make sure that you are stacked right on top of your shoulder joint. (The tendency is for the shoulder capsule to be slightly in front of the body. This causes misalignment.) Even though your body weight is squarely on your shoulder, you should still be very comfortable and able to move your arm with ease. Keep your head lifted to neutral. (Your cervical collar should help.)

Ideally, the space between your mattress and ear should be filled with an appropriately supportive pillow. Even if you have a cervical collar, you still need to have the correct amount of pillow. If you don’t, things will soften as you sleep, you’ll sink into an odd position, and you’ll wake up in pain. Trust me.

4. Manage your pain medications.

Using pain medications while sleeping can be a double edge sword. On the one hand, you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with pain. On the other hand, pain medications can cause you to be drowsy during the day.

This may result in long naps. These long naps could prevent you from getting a good, restful night’s sleep.

I was feeling sluggish during the day and having difficulty sleeping at night, so I quit taking my Tylenol. It was the correct decision for me. My head cleared, I was productive during the day, and I slept like a champ at night. 

Although this was right for me, it might not be right for you. Always pay attention to how you feel and what you think you need. Be mindful of what you’re taking for pain and potential side effects. Then, decide what is best for you.

5. When you lay down to sleep at night, focus on your task.

You are going to sleep. This is going to help your mind rest and your body heal. In a day, one of the most important things you will do for yourself is sleep. If your mind is racing, focus on the task at hand–you are repairing any damage your day may have done to your body.

Getting Ready to Sleep

Here are 5 tips to help you with cervical collar sleeping.

Before you rush off to bed at the end of the day, make sure you’re prepared. A little bit of preparation before bed will make a world of difference when you actually try to go to sleep.

If you are trying to improve your cervical collar sleeping, make sure to follow these five steps to help you get ready.

  1. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
  2. Plan for comfortable sleeping on your back.
  3. Make sure you have the correct pillow for your sleeping style.
  4. Manage your pain medications.
  5. When you lay down to sleep at night, focus on your task.

I hope these suggestions help you get a good night’s sleep.

If you’re interested in learning all my tricks to living with a broken neck, check out my book Snapped:  A Helpful Guide for Broken Neck Recovery.

What are your tips to get a good night’s sleep? Let us know in the comments below.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.