How Should You Sleep With Shoulder Pain

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Falling asleep with shoulder pain is difficult, and staying asleep with it is even harder. Many people with shoulder pain report that tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in, only worsens the pain. Even when you’re not lying on the hurt shoulder, it can still be painful enough to keep you from getting the rest you need to recover. 

Shoulder Pain From Sleeping on Side

Shoulder Pain From Sleeping on Side

Not all causes of nighttime shoulder pain are immediately diagnosable. Often the shoulder will be inflamed, stiff, or sore. You may be in pain at other times, which could be an indication of possible bursitis, tendinitis, a rotator cuff tear, or capsulitis of the shoulder. With shoulder pain accompanied by a pop, extreme swelling, or shortness of breath, you should see a doctor immediately. For lasting shoulder pain, you should also check in with a doctor, since some injuries require specialized treatments. 

Sleeping on your side could be adding to the pain, but it also could be the culprit causing it in the first place. Sleeping on one side can restrict blood flow to the rotator cuff, which is bad for stiff joints. In addition, prolonged stillness during sleep can lead to inflammation. 

Why Does the Rotator Cuff Hurt More at Night?

The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that keep your upper arm bone in your shoulder socket. Each year, almost 2 million Americans will see a doctor because of rotator cuff problems. While they can be caused by an event like a fall or a car accident, they’re also likely to occur simply from doing strenuous activity, like heavy lifting or intense exercise. Sleeping on your side can make an injured rotator cuff even more painful, as the swollen muscles and tendons become irritated from the pressure. How to relieve rotator cuff pain at night has a simple first step: try out new sleeping positions. 

How Can I Stop My Shoulders From Hurting at Night?

Getting good sleep can repair cell damage, replenish hormones, and reduce stress – both physical and mental. With a shoulder injury, getting sleep becomes all the more essential to help your body heal. Don’t despair if you find yourself asking, “So how should I sleep with shoulder pain?” It can be difficult, but it’s doable. Trying out different sleep positions can help reduce inflammation and increase circulation to your shoulder, which will minimize nighttime pain. 

Some solutions to shoulder pain from sleeping on the side are to stretch before sleep, create a soothing bedtime atmosphere, and, most importantly, try out different sleep positions once in bed. See what feels natural to you, while also alleviating pressure on your hurt shoulder. Sleeping on your back is most commonly recommended. Doing so lowers pressure on both of your shoulders, keeping your spine aligned. 

When you sleep on your back, try to stay in a supine position, with your arms loose and straight by your sides. This should ensure the least muscle tension throughout your body. It’s also essential not to turn your head to one side while you lay on your back. While this mimics the feeling of sleeping on one side, which might be comforting, it can also lead to neck pain.

How to Sleep on Your Side Without Hurting Your Shoulder

How Should You Sleep With Shoulder Pain

But what if you absolutely can’t sleep any other way than on one side? Firstly, try sleeping on the opposite side of your hurt shoulder. Experiencing neck and shoulder pain on the left side? Try sleeping on the right shoulder. This won’t fix all the pain, but it should help. Giving yourself a bear hug before bed can also help stretch out shoulder pain caused by bursitis or poor posture.

Strategically placed pillows are another commonly recommended sleep aid for joint pain. Try to hug a pillow when you sleep on your side. This will reduce strain on your rotator cuff, putting your shoulder in a more natural open position, instead of being crunched into your body during sleep. You can also try placing a pillow between your legs. This will keep your spine aligned, reduce pressure along your back, and help keep your shoulder at ease during the night. 

How Should I Sleep With Shoulder Arthritis?

If sleeping with a temporary injury is painful, settling down for a good night’s sleep with chronic pain from arthritis is all the more challenging. As many as 80% of patients with inflammatory arthritis will report “painsomnia” or inability to fall asleep and stay asleep from pain. Working with pillows, like a wedge pillow under your neck or using a neck roll pillow, can help ease symptoms. 

Changing temperature can also be effective for shoulder arthritis. Try taking a hot bath before bed to ease muscles, or using a heating pad or warm washcloth on your shoulder. While heat is traditionally prescribed, some arthritis patients also report that using fewer blankets in bed, or keeping their room cooler, helps them sleep better. You can also ask your doctor about topical NSAID gels, which can be rubbed onto your shoulder to reduce pain. Topical NSAIDs are a great answer to how to stop my shoulder from hurting when I sleep – without the risk of side effects from oral painkillers.


Shoulder pain can be a problem during the day, as well as when you try to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. You must get enough sleep to rest and recover from what’s causing the pain. Adjusting your sleep position to lie on your back, or hugging a pillow, can help you find relief. You can also try stretches, heat, establishing a peaceful bedtime routine, or applying topical NSAID painkillers to try to ease the ache at bedtime. Remember to talk to a doctor if the pain is severe or chronic, and they can also help you develop a routine that can get you falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling better.

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