8 Best Tips to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia


Find the Best Tips to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital Neuralgia is one of the rarer types of headaches. As such, not as much is known about it as other types of headaches. What is known is that it is classified as a primary headache as opposed to a secondary headache, and it is caused by an inflamed, pinched, or otherwise aggravated nerve in the back of the neck called the Occipital Nerve.

There are actually three types of Occipital Nerves: The Greater, The Lesser, and the Third. According to Science Direct, about 90% of Occipital Neuralgia cases affect the Greater Occipital Nerve, about 10% affect the Lesser Occipital Nerve, and very few affect the Third. Although rare, it is often quite painful and notorious for preventing people from sleeping should they have the condition.

However, there are a number of things you can try that may be able to help.

1. Use a Special Chiropractic Pillow For Occipital Neuralgia

Since Occipital Neuralgia is caused by irritation/inflammation of the Occipital Nerve – a nerve located on the back side of your head near the base of the skull – when you lie down and put your head on a pillow, you likely will increase pressure on the nerve.

This is often very painful and makes it difficult to lie down in comfort when you have Occipital Neuralgia. As a result, many people with ON have issues sleeping and part of the problem is the pillow. However, these days there are a number of specialty pillows on the market including pillows for occipital neuralgia which can combat this.

If you look for a pillow that provides a depression for your head to rest in and an appropriately shaped bump to support your neck, you may find it will relieve some nighttime pressures and keep your neck and spine properly aligned. This should help relieve some pain and make sleeping easier. Consult a chiropractor for more information on these specialty chiropractic pillows.

2. Use Chiropractic Massage to Treat Occipital Neuralgia

Chiropractic massage – which is a professional massage conducted under the supervision of a chiropractor – can, over the long term, often help relieve headaches like those caused by Occipital Neuralgia (ON). In the case of ON, the cause can sometimes be traced to tight muscles in the neck that impinge upon one of the Occipital Nerves.

Of course, one of the best ways to treat tight muscles is to relieve the tension so they can relax. A regular regimen of chiropractic massage can reduce tension and alleviate the tightness in the muscles around the neck. This, in turn, can alleviate some of the pain caused by ON and provide you with better sleep.

Looking for a locally trusted chiropractic office offering massage therapy in Anchorage, Alaska? Call Better Health Alaska at (907) 346-5255.

3. Use Chiropractic Care to Treat Occipital Neuralgia

Although the particular details as to why chiropractic care can relieve certain headaches are not entirely known, it is most probable that adjustments in the neck (a junction/pathway for many nerves) can realign vertebrae which in turn reduces tension in and around the nearest muscles like those that entrap the Occipital Nerves.

Adding chiropractic care to your regimen of chiropractic massage may be able to relieve some of your ON pain. Again, less pain means better sleep. And, again, this is a long-term approach.

4. Limit Caffeine Intake

An obvious problem when dealing with ON and sleep is the overconsumption of caffeine. If you are trying to get to sleep, you want as few things as possible obstructing that goal. Caffeine is notorious for keeping people awake when they consume too much.

You don’t necessarily have to go cold turkey, just, perhaps, cut off consumption after a set time each day, several hours before bed. This will make sure you don’t have caffeine in your system when it becomes time to sleep. So, your chances of falling asleep and staying asleep will be better.

5. Take Up Yoga

Another way to combat stress would be to get involved in yoga. Yoga is an ancient discipline that practices various body poses and stretches to strengthen muscles and relieve tension. Many chiropractors recommend taking up yoga as a complement to the musculoskeletal care they provide.

Yoga helps reduce stress and loosen muscles – like those at the back of the neck. However, don’t try to take it up on your own. If you are doing yoga for a specific “medical” purpose like ON, you really need a qualified yoga instructor to guide you.

Again, this is a long term approach to help your sleep issue. It’s a good place to start, if you are looking for a quick way to remedy a headache.

6. Get Some Exercise

Another long term change you can make in your lifestyle is to incorporate a regular exercise program. First off, like yoga and the other tips mentioned above, exercise can reduce tension which should help you fall asleep faster and more soundly.

The usual recommendation is to do some type of exercise at least three times a week.

7. Take a Hot Shower Before You Go To Bed

Not only does a hot shower before bedtime reduce tension, it also, once you establish it as a habit, signals to your body that it is time to go to sleep. Basically, you can use a shower as a part of your nightly “wind-down.”

Your body will know it’s time to lay down and get some rest.

8. Use Hot and Cold Compresses

Remember, Occipital Neuralgia can be caused by inflamed muscles. Applying cold compresses, followed by hot compresses, can help fight that inflammation. If the inflammation is reduced, that should relieve pressure on your Occipital Nerve.

Once the pressure is relieved, the pain should also reduce.

9. Try An Elimination Diet

Sometimes allergies to certain foods can cause issues like ON. If this is the case, you should avoid the particular allergens that cause the problem. If you don’t know which particular allergen it is, you can try eliminating one allergen from your diet at a time to see if such provides relief.

Some common food items that cause headaches are cheese, chocolate, citrus fruit, coffee, and alcohol. One of them may be causing you problems … or not.

It is worth pointing out, though, that none of the techniques mentioned above are guaranteed to work on Occipital Neuralgia. However, many of them are effective against other types of headaches, and, since the rule is to exhaust conservative methods first, methods, like those above, should be used before anything more drastic like surgery. Should you have any doubts about the safety of chiropractic care, getting a chiropractic adjustment is probably one of the safest medical procedures around.

Does Occipital Neuralgia Get Worse At Night?

Does Occipital Neuralgia Get Worse At Night?

It is really unclear whether ON gets worse at night because it is night and not for some other reason like weariness from your day. Since the condition is quite rare, it is not as well understood as other types of headaches. 

What is clear, though, is that many people do seem to experience a worsening of the condition during nighttime hours. This, as mentioned above, may be the result of the type of pillow they use, or some other reason like increased tension and strain from a hard day.

It is often very painful and difficult to lie down in comfort when you have Occipital Neuralgia. Hence, many people with ON have issues sleeping.

Can a Pillow Help You Get To Sleep When You Have Occipital Neuralgia?

Very often the point of contact between a pillow and your Occipital Nerve is the cause of significant pain and discomfort. However, these days there are a number of specialty pillows on the market.

If you look for a pillow that provides a depression for your head to rest in and a bump to support your neck, you may find it will relieve some nighttime pressures and keep your neck and spine properly aligned. However, you should consult a chiropractor for more specific details.

How Do You Calm the Occipital Nerve?

The usual methods for calming a nerve should work on the Occipital Nerves just as readily. These include:

  • Reducing tension in the surrounding muscles
  • Realigning the relevant skeletal structure
  • And reducing inflammation in the surrounding muscles

If you can do those three things, it should help alleviate your pain.

Is Chiropractic Care for Occipital Neuralgia Effective?

We briefly discussed this above, but if you need reassurance, here is one scientific case study from 2003 that shows evidence that chiropractic care can help. The same study also notes that there is no uniformly guaranteed treatment for ON. However, as in most medical pursuits, it is best to exhaust conservative treatments (like chiropractic care) before moving to more invasive treatments like surgery.

In any event, as a specialist in the musculoskeletal system, a chiropractor can treat many other types of neck pain, and can certainly help in diagnosing the issue.


Dealing with Occipital Neuralgia can be a struggle particularly when it interferes with your sleep. But you are not completely at its mercy. You can consult a chiropractor at Better Health Alaska or other medical professionals to assist you in your struggles. The techniques above may just be what you are looking for.


The portrait of Dr. Brent Wells.

Dr. Brent Wells

About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells is an actively practicing chiropractic physician that has personally led over 10,000 Alaskans to more active, pain-free lifestyles since 1998. He is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Anchorage and Juneau where he brings a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic care. Dr. Wells continues to further his education with ongoing studies in spine conditions, neurology, physical rehabilitation, biomechanics, occupational ergonomics, whiplash, and brain injury traumatology. He is also a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.

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