Best Way To Sleep With Occipital Neuralgia

Sleep plays a critical role in our lives and energises us for the coming day. Many chronic conditions, including occipital neuralgia, disrupt sleep due to pain and discomfort. So, what is the best way to sleep with occipital neuralgia? This article covers the scientific best practice of how to sleep with occipital neuralgia and related pain disorders.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the
University of Oxford.

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Sleep in occipital neuralgia: Best Practices

Adjusting your sleep position, using a neck-supporting pillow and adopting good sleep hygiene are the best ways to get good sleep.

What Is Occipital Neuralgia?

The occipital nerve is a critical nerve leading from the base of the neck along the back of your head [1]. Occipital neuralgia is a chronic headache disorder that originates from the occipital region, the back of the head and spreads through the occipital nerves.

The pain experienced in occipital neuralgia is described as sharp, piercing, or stabbing, and it is caused by damage or inflammation to the occipital nerve [2].

What Is The Cause Of Occipital Neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is often caused by pinched nerves at the root of the neck. Individual attacks or episodes of occipital neuralgia can occur seemingly spontaneously or be triggered by a light touch [2, 3].

Just like neck problems can cause trigeminal neuralgia, tight neck muscles or chronic neck tension can also cause occipital neuralgia [2, 3]. This will become important when considering the best ways to sleep with occipital neuralgia.

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Best Ways to Sleep With Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia can significantly disrupt sleep. However, specific strategies can help manage this pain and promote better sleep.

Before sleep, avoiding triggers for occipital neuralgia is best. These can be dietary substances, such as caffeine, which impairs sleep, or bananas.

One of the most effective ways to sleep with occipital neuralgia is to adjust your sleep position. Lying on your back can reduce the pressure on your nerves and avoid triggering pain [4]. If you're a side sleeper, using pillows that support side sleeping and placing a pillow between your knees can promote spinal alignment [4].

Using a supportive pillow can also help. A memory foam or latex pillow can provide the necessary support to keep your head in place and your spine aligned [4]. In a study, most participants (62.9%) preferred a Shape of Sleep pillow, which provides more rigid support [5].

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and getting at least 7-8 hours every night can promote better sleep hygiene [4]. Avoiding alcohol, large meals, and excess fluids right before bedtime, limiting caffeine intake to mornings only, and turning off electronic devices 30 minutes before bed can also help [4].

Keeping your bedroom dark and cool can encourage better sleep [4]. Relaxing activities before bedtime, such as gentle stretching, meditation, or a warm bath, can also be beneficial [4].

Applying a heat pad or warm compress to your neck can relieve pain [4]. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used for acute pain, but only occasionally and if recommended by a doctor [4].

If these strategies do not provide sufficient relief, discussing other treatment options with your doctor may be beneficial, such as nerve blocks, anti-inflammatory drugs, or surgical interventions [6].

Summary: Best Ways to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia

Sleep is a critical part of being energised for daily activities. In painful conditions such as occipital neuralgia, adopting a sleep position that minimises pressure on the neck, using a supportive pillow and improving general sleep hygiene are the best ways to get good sleep.

Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is a postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. She has worked across a spectrum of hot topics in neuroscience, including her current project measuring reinforcement learning strategies in Parkinson’s disease. Previously, she studied the efficacy of psilocybin as a therapy for critical mental health conditions and examined molecular circadian rhythms of migraine disorders. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and participated in a year abroad at the University of California, where she worked on a clinical trial for spinal cord injury.