Whiplash makes it painfully clear how much we use our necks. Whether you’ve been in a car accident, have taken a nasty fall, or have whiplash from a sports injury, it can make sleeping seem impossible. Luckily, it’s very possible to get a good night’s sleep with whiplash.

Sleeping with whiplash is all about supporting your neck and head properly. You can do this with neck pillows, orthopedic pillows, or rolled up towels. But you’ll also need to be proactive during the day to help your neck heal so it doesn’t prevent you from sleeping at night!

Can Whiplash Cause Insomnia?

Whiplash is a common injury, affecting over 1 million Americans every year. Many whiplash sufferers complain of trouble sleeping, mainly due to neck pain and discomfort. While it’s not common for whiplash to cause long-term insomnia, it is possible for this type of injury to disrupt the sleep cycle. This prolongs the healing time, as proper sleep is essential to the healing process.

So while sleeping with whiplash can be difficult, it is not impossible. With the right practices and sleeping habits, you can get a decent night’s sleep, which will help your whiplash heal quickly. Read on as we explore the best ways to sleep with whiplash.

Why is Whiplash Worse at Night?

Many people find that their whiplash pain gets worse at night and in the mornings. When it gets worse at night, this is generally because you’re changing position, putting pressure on the damaged area or stressing the damaged ligaments by laying down in the position in which you normally sleep.

In the morning, whiplash pain is worse because the muscles stiffen overnight, making the discomfort more apparent until you can gently stretch the muscles out to loosen them up.

Tips for Sleeping With Whiplash

Whether your whiplash gets worse at night or not, it can still make it difficult to get to sleep. So here are some things you can do for whiplash at night to get to sleep.

Sleeping Position

The first thing you’ll want to consider when sleeping with whiplash is your sleeping position. You may like to start off in one position and then change during the night. Or you may simply stay in one position all night long. Everyone’s different, but if you have whiplash, there are only two positions that you should sleep in:

  • On your back
  • On your side

Sleeping on your stomach is never a good idea with whiplash because it puts the neck in a compromised position. Of the two positions above, sleeping on your back is the best for whiplash, as it’s easier to keep your neck in a neutral position while also supporting the head and neck properly. Since delayed whiplash syndrome is a real problem, it’s a good idea to ensure you support your neck after a potential whiplash injury, even if you aren’t in pain yet.

There are a few ways you can support your neck when sleeping in both positions. Let’s look at them now.

Whiplash Pillow

There are many different types of orthopedic whiplash pillows available for purchase. They are designed to support the neck, usually with a bulge at the bottom of the pillow. These are often made of memory foam, but they’re available in other materials, as well. One increasingly popular type is the water-based neck pain pillow.

Most of these are designed for back sleeping, but some can work for side sleeping, as well. If you’re a side sleeper, make sure to get a pillow that will support your neck properly while sleeping on your side. The description should say what the ideal sleeping positions are.

One study showed that proper neck support when sleeping, combined with physical therapy interventions, had a positive effect on those with chronic neck pain.

Rolled Towel

If a whiplash pillow is more of an investment than you want to make, you could try using a rolled-up towel under your neck while you sleep. This is best for sleeping on your back, but the concept can also be used for side sleepers.

The idea here is to keep your head and neck in their natural position, maintaining good posture even while you sleep. For this reason, most people find that they need to ditch their normal pillow and just place the towel under their neck on the mattress.

Neck Pillow

Some people find that sleeping propped up with a travel neck pillow relieves their whiplash pain so they can sleep. Some even find that these donut-shaped pillows provide them the right amount of support when they sleep lying down. It really depends on how thick the pillow is, and whether it will help you maintain good posture while you sleep.

Dealing With Whiplash During the Day

Supporting your neck at night is only half the battle when it comes to sleeping with whiplash. After all, if you have poor posture during the day, it’s only going to make things worse when it comes time to sleep.

Without being proactive about your whiplash treatment, you risk developing long-term whiplash symptoms. In fact, lingering symptoms of whiplash can last for months or even years if not treated properly. So, here are the best things you can do during the day to help your whiplash injury heal.

  • Gentle Stretches (2 – 4 days after the incident)
    • Studies show that moving your neck gently can help your neck to heal from a whiplash injury. It’s best to do this at the behest of a chiropractor or physical therapist, but you can also do it at home by yourself.
  • Heat and Ice
    • Alternating heat and ice on your neck can help relax the muscles, reduce swelling, and relieve pain.
  • Maintain Proper Posture
    • While it may feel good to keep your neck forward, it’s only making things worse in the long run. Stand and sit up straight. If this causes you too much pain, consider seeing a chiropractor.
  • See a Physical Therapist
    • Studies show that physical therapy modalities are great for improving whiplash symptoms and speeding the healing process.
  • Avoid These Activities Until You’re Ready
    • Driving
    • Carrying heavy things (backpacks and purses included)
    • Sports
    • Sudden head movements
    • Don’t wear a neck brace for over a week (unless directed otherwise by a healthcare professional)

Don’t Wait — See a Chiropractor for Whiplash

The best thing you can do is see a chiropractor for whiplash. Since chiropractors specialize in treating the musculoskeletal system, seeing one to treat your whiplash is always a good idea. The chiropractor will likely make sure there are no misalignments in your neck caused by the injury. Then you’ll spend some time with a physical therapist, as physical therapy modalities have been shown to be ideal for treating whiplash.

Studies show that seeing a professional immediately is a great way to prevent the cycle of sleep disturbances and pain that many people fall into after a whiplash injury. This is also a good way to help prevent long-term issues that can linger for months or years without proper treatment.

Physical Therapy in Anchorage and Juneau

At Better Health Alaska, we’ve treated 6,000+ whiplash cases in our 20+ years in Alaska. If you’re having trouble sleeping after a whiplash injury, contact us today for relief through physical therapy in our Anchorage or Juneau clinic.