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Sleep Troubleshooting

Recently I’ve had more problems with my sleep where I wake up during the night or in the morning with neck aches that turn into headaches. Neck troubles are not infrequent for people living with rheumatoid arthritis, but this has been an aggravating and frustrating new problem for me.

Periodically I get neck aches and headaches that can lay me out for a day or so. But the frequency and intensity have ramped up. A couple years ago, my doctor, had an x-ray taken of my neck and fortunately didn’t find anything more than some expected joint damage. I do have fairly limited neck motion (which can be tricky to cope with) but haven’t struggled with pain much until these recent problems.

Part of my neck issues are related to stress and tension. This is an area where I carry my worries and I do get relief from regular massage. My husband also helps by rubbing in tension relief lotion. But even more, massage was not solving the sleep problem.

After trying more pillows piled higher for my sleep and still not finding that it helped, I consulted with my physical therapist. She asked about my positioning and explained that as a side sleeper, she would want me to find a pillow that supported my head such that my neck neither curved up nor down. She wanted my neck to be even to keep it from straining during sleep.

I jumped online when I got home and did a bunch of pillow research. I didn’t want anything too fluffy because I felt that those types of pillows get in my face and obstruct my breathing. I didn’t want anything too hard either. Most of all, I didn’t want to spend a gazillion dollars. It was too easy to find pillows costing at least $100 that promised to solve all of my problems, yet I didn’t want to place that expensive bet. What if I bought one of these ridiculously pricey items and it didn’t help? Most pillows cannot be returned (with good reason).

Pillows to the rescue

In the end, I decided that it would be an experiment. I’d try something not too expensive, see how I felt and would move on to try other pillows if needed. For me, some important criteria had to be met:

  • Not too expensive. I was only willing to spend a max of $40 on a pillow.
  • Had to be well-reviewed by other people.
  • Need to be firm, but have some softness on the outside.
  • Must fit a regular pillow case, otherwise, it would be very impractical.
  • Some indication that the pillow would work for a side-sleeper.
  • Preferably hypoallergenic with properties to help minimize dust and mites.

I’m glad that I spoke with my PT and did some research as I was better to assess the best possible options for me with this education. For example, a big fluffy pillow wasn’t going to work for my neck issues though it may look great for lounging in bed. I needed something that would support my joints and help me to improve the quality of my sleep.

Luckily, I found a pillow that helped on the first try. When it arrived in the mail, I almost just sent it right back. It looked wrong! It looked too big and soft. But the test was in the using—not just for one night but for at least a week so that I could adjust and get a feeling of how my sleep was affected. It brought immediate relief to my neck and I felt that I was sleeping more solidly and waking up less in the night.

Although I still need to continue working on my sleep quality, I feel like this pillow project made a huge difference in my neck issues and rest already.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Norreen Clark
    1 year ago

    Right now using a memory foam that seems to be working

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    11 months ago

    Thanks for the tip Norreen! I recently got a wedge pillow that is memory foam and I really like it. While it is firm, it is still comfortable. Take care. Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • BrendaC45
    2 years ago

    Sleep has changed for me drastically in the past 2 years. I have always gotten at least 8 hours and an occasional 9. But now it is 4-5 and I think about sleep a lot. I can fall asleep although pretty late now. I wake up once & it is about 30 minutes until I get back to sleep. This is the bathroom time. Then I wake up at 6-7 and can’t go beyond that. My PCP gave me Ambien. Couldn’t tell it did anything. So I stopped it after a week.
    If anyone has a good cure my ears are waiting . Brenda

  • slloyd95
    2 years ago

    I could’ve written this article! Could you please share what pillow you have found?

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi ssloyd95, I have found a BeautyRest Extra Firm pillow to be helpful but recommend consulting with a doctor, physical therapist or other expert for guidance. It may also be good to try several and see what works best. Happy sleeping! Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • debdoy
    2 years ago

    Is there a way, without being deleted to find out what kind of pillow you found. I have severe disc problems in my neck and my sleep suffers terribly due to the pain.

  • Larry Sawyer
    2 years ago

    Hi, my c3-c4-c5 and c6 is screwed up , I have found the “My Pillow’ sold on line is the best for supporting my head, Purchase the mid level pillow first and quickly up graded to the heavy level. I also have a Saunders neck stretcher by Saunders which really helps when the neck starts to snap, crackle and pop. I do isometrics to strengthen neck muscles but the Saunders neck stretcher really is the key because it unloads the pressure on the joints in the neck. be well Larry

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