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How to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia

Published on 3rd June 2022
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Getting a good night’s sleep when experiencing any kind of pain is difficult, including occipital neuralgia.
How to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia
  1. What is Occipital Neuralgia
  2. Why Does Occipital Neuralgia Make Sleeping Difficult?
  3. How to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia
  4. Lifestyle Changes and Occipital Neuralgia
  5. See a Pain Doctor
how to sleep with occipital neuralgia

Getting a good night’s sleep when experiencing any kind of pain is difficult, including occipital neuralgia. This type of headache is due to nerve inflammation, so any pressure placed on the nerves will increase the pain. Learning how to sleep to relieve the headache as much as possible is important because sleep is crucial to health and wellness. The sleeping position is important to minimize the pain resulting from moving the neck and the pain occurring in the head area.

What is Occipital Neuralgia

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines occipital neuralgia as a type of headache with symptoms that include pain that is throbbing, piercing or like an electric shock and occurs in the back of the head, upper neck and behind the ears. The pain usually affects one side of the head.

The greater and lesser occipital nerves are nerves that emerge from the cervical spinal section or neck. They reach through the muscles on each side of the head and into the scalp. When these nerves are inflamed or irritated, the pain develops.

Occipital neuralgia is considered a rare condition, but the difficulty is that migraine headaches can disguise their existence. There may be many more occurrences than have been diagnosed. The reason is that migraine headaches may affect the back of the head on one side or the other, leading to inflammation of the occipital nerve. The person experiencing the headache is diagnosed with a migraine that is inflaming the great occipital nerve instead of being diagnosed with occipital neuralgia.

Occipital Neuralgia

Neuralgia is a pain due to a damaged or irritated nerve. Occipital Neuralgia occurs when occipital nerves…

Why Does Occipital Neuralgia Make Sleeping Difficult?

Occipital neuralgia can make it difficult to sleep for a variety of reasons. The Occipital Neuralgia Foundation names a long list of symptoms that could impact sleep quality, and they include the following.

  • Pain is experienced in the neck at the base of the skull
  • Pain spreads to the scalp and possibly the forehead
  • Constant or intermittent pain in the head
  • Shooting pain located in the head
  • Scalp gets tender and hurts when touched
  • Pain occurs above the eyebrows
  • The nerve root is pinched due to injury, irritation or disease
  • Tight neck muscles entrap the occipital nerve, so the neck is painful

People who do not get quality sleep will likely experience daytime sleepiness, and the lack of sleep can increase pain. There is also a restriction in the neck’s range of motion because of the pain and muscle stiffness. The tenderness and pain in the neck and scalp make sleeping a challenge, but there is a recommended sleeping position.

How to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia

The best occipital neuralgia sleeping position is on your back. This position places the least amount of pressure on your nerves. The best way to sleep with occipital neuralgia is to:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Choose a pillow that provides neck support, keeps the head and body in alignment and discourages movement.
  • Avoid bending the neck, which can increase pressure on the nerves.
the best ways to sleep with occipital neuralgia

If unable to sleep on your back, you can try sleeping on your side. However, it is still important to provide the neck with enough support and keep the head and spine aligned (neutral position).

Lifestyle Changes and Occipital Neuralgia

Besides learning a helpful sleeping position, there are other lifestyle changes. For example, caffeine and occipital neuralgia do not mix. Drinking coffee causes the blood vessels to narrow around the brain, and the brain becomes dependent on caffeine. When you skip your coffee, the blood vessels widen.

This is why coffee drinkers without occipital neuralgia get painful headaches when they stop caffeine. So avoiding caffeine is the best course to make.

Other lifestyle changes include avoiding eating refined sugar and fresh vegetables and fruit. You can also do gentle neck exercises to relieve tight muscles.

See a Pain Doctor

Though it is difficult to diagnose occipital neuralgia, seeing a pain doctor is essential to ensure there are no other medical reasons for the pain. A pain doctor can recommend a variety of steps you can take, like over-the-counter medications. In addition, there are other treatment options should the occipital neuralgia become unbearable, like pulsed radiofrequency and massage.



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Further Reading

Difference Between Headaches and Migraines

Posted on 17th March 2021

Living with Occipital Neuralgia

Posted on 17th August 2020

Diet Therapy for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Posted on 4th February 2019

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