How to Sleep Comfortably With Shoulder Pain: The Ultimate Guide


man suffering shoulder pain

Falling asleep with debilitating shoulder pain can be extremely difficult especially as a side or stomach sleeper. The intensity of the pain can be so high that tossing and turning all night becomes inevitable even when you’re desperate to sleep.

This pain can arise from playing a physical sport such as golf or tennis as well as lying down at an awkward angle while sleeping. In some situations, old age can also cause regular shoulder pain.

Is it possible to sleep with shoulder pain? The answer is yes. If you’re experiencing shoulder stiffness and pain, remedies such as switching to a new sleeping position, stretching the shoulders at night, and taking over-the-counter painkillers can have the desired effect.

 You can finally say goodbye to those frustrating nights due to unbearable shoulder discomfort after reading this article.

Avoid Sleeping on the Arm

Sleeping on the arm is probably the number one cause of shoulder pain. This position is common among side sleepers as they slide their arms under their pillows before lying down on it.

For most people, the “arm-under-pillow” position can feel heavenly at bedtime. However, the pain in the shoulders and arms can be unsettling by the time morning comes.

But why does sleeping on the arm cause shoulder pain? Firstly, that position can place excessive pressure on the arm and shoulders. Besides, it can inhibit the spine from naturally aligning with the rest of your body.

This may not only lead to arm and shoulder stiffness but other spinal injuries and inflammation as well.

But why do many of us instinctively sleep with our arms under the pillow? Well, this is usually caused by pillows that provide inadequate support. The lack of support can create the instinct to prop up the head by sliding your arms under the pillow.

Thus, if you’re always sleeping on your arm, it is time to get a new pillow that provides ample support for the neck and spine. This can enable comfortable placement of the shoulders on the pillow instead of under it.

What Causes Shoulder Pain at Night

Many chronic shoulder pain sufferers ask themselves why the pain seems to only come up at night. Well, the truth is, many of us suffer long-term inflammation in the shoulder, usually around the rotator cuff muscles.

However, we seem to feel the pain more at night because we’re less active at that time and the brain tends to send more pain signals. Here are a few causes that may be behind that chronic pain you can’t seem to shake off in the shoulders:

  • Poor sleeping position 
  • Poor posturing
  • Muscle tears
  • Injuries
  • Playing physically intensive sports such as tennis or golf
  • Manual labor such as carpentry or construction
  • Driving for long hours
  • Aging

1. Poor Sleeping Position

As previously discussed, the number one cause of shoulder pain is your sleeping position. Lying down on the side with the arm under the pillow can lead to significant pain within a couple of hours.

By the time you wake up during the night, the pain can be so alarming that going back to sleep may prove difficult. No matter how tempting it might feel, always remember that sleeping in that position can only lead to negative results.

Sleeping on the front can be another terrible idea if you’re trying to battle shoulder pain. Lying down on the tummy may cause overstretching of the shoulder muscles, leading to destabilization of the body.

Apart from shoulder stiffness and discomfort, stomach sleeping has also be linked with neck and back pain. This may result from the excessive strain that position places on your spine. Remember, a significant portion of your body’s weight can be found in the stomach region. Therefore, achieving the neutral spinal position the body requires for pain-free sleeping can become difficult.

If you’re a dedicated stomach sleeper who struggles to sleep in any other position, propping up your midriff with a stomach pillow may be a smart action. It can reduce the pressure on your spine and increase comfort levels substantially. 

Have you read the article we wrote on sleeping on the left side? Click here for deep insights on the smartest techniques to keep shoulder pain at bay.

2. Poor Posturing

lady looking at her iPhone in public

Did you know that poor posturing can lead to muscle stiffness and pain across various areas of the body including the shoulders? Well, walking with a slouch or sleeping on a sagging mattress has proven to be a leading cause of shoulder discomfort.

Also, if you consistently walk while looking down on the ground instead of looking ahead, you can end up suffering shoulder pain.

It is common to see many folks peeking on gadgets such as iPads and smartphones when they’re supposed to be looking straight ahead. Such people could be staring at future chronic shoulder pain right in the face.

3. Muscle Tearing

Have you ever suffered a tear in the shoulder muscles? If yes, you’d agree that it was one of the most painful days of your life. Suffering a tear in your shoulder muscles can make it extremely difficult to sleep.

This may result from accidents or falls that affect the rotator cuff muscles. Additionally, people who engage in activities that require repetitive motion are at a higher risk of suffering tears in their rotator cuff muscles.

More often than not, scans offer the best way to confirm torn shoulder muscles. This is why many doctors recommend an immediate scan for those who report experiencing sharp pain in their shoulders.

3. Injuries 

Do you work in construction or another profession that is physically demanding? If yes, you can be at a high risk of rotator cuff injuries. Even the slightest bit of exertion in the shoulders can cause discomfort.

Also, if you’re a professional athlete engaged in tennis, soccer, running, or even golf, the chances of suffering pain in the shoulders can be greater during practice and competitive games.

Professional Rowers, in particular, seem to suffer shoulder injuries all the time. This may be due to the level of exertion practicing their craft places on the shoulders.

4. Driving for Long Hours

man driving a bus

Many folks report different degrees of body pains after driving continuously for hours. If you consistently have to drive on long journeys, shoulder pain may never be too far away.

This is because steering a vehicle typically forces you to place the shoulders in an unnatural position which can lead to stiffness and discomfort by the time you arrive home at night. 

The situation may become even worse for truckers who’re forced to spend most of their time on the road.

Keep in mind that suffering pain from the shoulders has nothing to do with your driving abilities. Even professional drivers go through the same struggles regularly.

5. Aging

As we grow old, the changes in our bodies coupled with the weakening of various muscles can lead to constant pain in different areas. The shoulders are one of the common areas senior citizens report experiencing pain.

This may be due to several reasons but the bottom line is that the aging process can take a significant physical toll on the human body.

Once you hit 50, most people try to take these pains and discomforts in their stride because the situation only gets worse. You may have little option than to seek treatment as soon as possible instead of worrying your head over what may be wrong if the pain seems hard to bear.

How to Sleep with Shoulder Pain

Sleeping with shoulder pain can be difficult especially among those who are clueless about what to do. However, there are important techniques you can follow to ease the pain and guarantee minimal sleep disturbance. Shall we look into a few of them?

1. Change Your Sleeping Position

Switching to an alternative position may be a simple way to enjoy blissful sleep even when you’re suffering shoulder pain. For side sleepers, the easiest way is to lie down on the side opposite the pain area.

That can ensure a comfortable shuteye while lowering the risk of aggravating the pain. Keep in mind that the best sleeping position for shoulder pain is the back.

Lying down on the back may not only free up the shoulders from any sort of pressure but it can also promote even distribution of the sleeper’s body weight. As long as the pain does not get worse when you lie down in this position, you should be fine.

2. Get Proper Rest

woman lying down on a pillow

A lack of proper rest can inhibit the natural healing of shoulder pain causing it to linger unnecessarily.

Keeping a regular sleeping schedule can help the body heal quickly from the inflammation. The damaged cells may also undergo regeneration during nighttime rest leading to healing and easing of your pain in the morning.

The best trick is to go to bed at the same time each night. If you’re struggling to sleep, here are a few techniques to doze off quickly:

  • Go for a short walk after dinner
  • Switch off the bedroom lights
  • Take a warm shower before bed 
  • Read a book at bedtime
  • Drink Chamomile tea

3. Reclining Bed or Chair

Sometimes the degree of pain in the shoulders can be so high that lying down may not be a viable option. Sleeping in a reclined position can be your best bet in such a scenario.

The most popular option may be to prop up the body with a ton of pillows so you can lie down in a semi-seated position.

If you can afford it, an adjustable bed can work wonders for your sleep. A reclining chair can also be a great option for shoulder pain sufferers.

The good news is that there are lots of options on Amazon and other online retail sites.

The quality of my sleep has improved significantly since I bought the Giantex Adjustable Massage Bed Base from Amazon. It allows me to sleep upright in a flexible angle while offering back massages for pain relief.

I found the Mcombo Electric Powerlift Recliner Chair on Amazon. The built-in power lift and 140-degree reclining ability can be lifesaving for most painful conditions. The comfy leather design also provides cozy sleeping all night long. I highly recommend it.

4. Ice Compression Wrap

Muscle stiffness and inflammation react well to ice application by releasing the tension in your muscles. Ice compression wraps may come in the form of shoulder straps that provide numbing effects on the injured site.

These straps are designed to keep the ice in place while applying direct pressure on the affected area. There are several types of ice compression wraps on the market. So it is up to you to find the type that works best for your pain and stick to it.

The Natracure Cold Compression Shoulder Support from Amazon has been amazing since I ordered it last month. It offers soothing relief for my shoulder pains after extensive golfing or driving. You should definitely check it out.

5. Shoulder Pillows

Shoulder pillows are a must-have for anyone frequently saddled with shoulder pain. These pillows can come in handy for side sleepers and stomach sleepers who desire superior support for their shoulders.

The pillows ease the pressure on the shoulders by providing cushioning and alignment regardless of your preferred sleeping position.

Some special shoulder support pillows may feature holes for slotting in the shoulders during side sleeping. These pillows are popular online and offline so do well find one that works best for you.

I love resting on the EPABO Contour Memory Foam Pillow from Amazon. It offers world-class therapeutic relief for neck and shoulder pain. I no longer wake up to stiffness and discomfort in the morning.

6. Over the Counter Pain Medications 

mixture of pain killers

Over-the-counter pain medications can be lifesaving for anyone who tosses and turns throughout the night as a result of severe body pains. Remember, muscle inflammation usually causes the majority of shoulder pain cases.

Medications including Tylenol and Advil can reduce swelling and the degree of pain in the shoulders. This means sleep should come much easier once you take your meds as directed.

Chronic shoulder pain sufferers may have to rely on these medications to be able to live normal lives and go through everyday activities such as walking, sleeping, and eating.

7. Yoga 

Practicing yoga poses can increase your flexibility and reduce the risk of various kinds of body pains. The full-body stretches may also enhance the body’s overall strength and endurance, especially the neck and back muscles.

Doing yoga regularly can also improve the shoulders and make them less susceptible to tearing and inflammations.

This can supercharge your overall body strength and improve the body’s immunity for a superior quality of life.

The BalanceFrom GoYoga All-Purpose 1/2 Inch Extra Thick Anti-Tear Yoga Mat from Amazon is my go-to mat for doing yoga at home and the office. The 71-inch length and 24-inch width make it comfortable for people of all shapes and sizes. With 5-star reviews from over 21,000 buyers (and counting) on Amazon alone, you cannot afford to miss out on it.

8. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can also be valuable if your pain is chronic and doesn’t seem like improving anytime soon. Doctors usually look at the results of scans and refer patients to physical therapists.

Regular physiotherapy sessions can be great for your body. Therapists typically come up with treatment plans for each patient based on the level of pain, age, and other personal factors.

9. Surgery

Surgery may be the last resort if none of the remedies above has worked for you. Depending on the extent of the pain and the degree of inflammation or tear, surgery may be more invasive.

Remember, any form of surgery can come with real risks especially in senior citizens. Thus, it is important to discuss those risks extensively before deciding to go through with it.

Natural Remedies for Shoulder Pain

Did you know that there are a ton of natural remedies for pain many folks swear by? If you’ve been struggling with shoulder pain for long periods, it is time to try one of these:

  • Shoulder & Rotator Cuff Support Braces – Wearing this support brace from Amazon can provide relief from rotator cuff injuries, inflammation, and other sources of pain by compressing the shoulder joint. This may not only reduce the pain but can also correct posture issues.
  • Medicated Pain Patches – These pain patches available on Amazon can pinpoint specific pain areas and deliver icy coolness to reduce the pain. They can also offer relaxing heat to soothe achy muscles.
  • Heating PadsHeating pads may provide relief for any degree of shoulder pain by delivering direct heat on the affected areas. They usually feature soft micro mink fiber covers and built-in overheating prevention.

Conclusion

Sleeping with shoulder pain can be terrible no matter how old you may be. In most cases, speaking to your physician may be an easy way to find the best option for pain management.

If nothing else works, there are a couple of natural remedies that can prove potent for you. Just be willing to try the various options stated above because you never know which one could work.

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