24 May 2024
Discover why sleeping can cause shoulder pain and learn how to alleviate discomfort. Find out the common causes, effects of sleeping positions, and tips for reducing shoulder pain. Start waking up pain-free!

Are you tired of waking up with achy shoulders every morning? If so, you’re not alone. Many individuals experience discomfort in their shoulders after a night’s sleep. But why does this happen? In this article, we will explore the possible reasons behind shoulder pain while sleeping and provide some tips to alleviate the discomfort. So, get ready to bid farewell to those bothersome shoulder pains and wake up feeling refreshed and pain-free!

Why Does Sleeping Hurt My Shoulders?

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

Sleeping should be a time of rest and rejuvenation, but for many people, it can turn into a painful experience due to shoulder pain. There are several common causes of shoulder pain when sleeping, and it’s important to understand them in order to find relief and improve the quality of your sleep.

Incorrect Sleeping Position

One of the main culprits behind shoulder pain when sleeping is an incorrect sleeping position. When you sleep in a position that puts excessive pressure on your shoulders, it can lead to discomfort and pain. The three main sleeping positions that can cause shoulder pain are sleeping on your side, sleeping on your stomach, and sleeping on your back.

Poor Sleep Surface

Another factor that can contribute to shoulder pain when sleeping is a poor sleep surface. If your mattress is too firm or too soft, it may not provide adequate support for your shoulders, causing them to be stressed and strained throughout the night. Similarly, using the wrong pillow or one that doesn’t offer the right level of support can also lead to shoulder pain.

Shoulder Injuries or Conditions

Shoulder pain when sleeping can also be attributed to pre-existing injuries or conditions in the shoulder joint. Common conditions that can cause nighttime shoulder pain include rotator cuff tears, bursitis, frozen shoulder, tendinitis, and arthritis. These conditions can cause inflammation, restricted movement, and pain, making it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Muscle Imbalances and Weakness

Muscle imbalances and weakness can also contribute to shoulder pain when sleeping. When certain muscles in the shoulder are weaker or tighter than others, it can affect the alignment and stability of the joint. This can lead to increased stress on the shoulder joint during sleep, causing pain and discomfort.

Effect of Incorrect Sleeping Position on Shoulders

The way you sleep can have a significant impact on your shoulders, and the choice of sleeping position can either alleviate or exacerbate shoulder pain when sleeping. Let’s explore the effect of each sleeping position on the shoulders.

Sleeping on Your Side

Sleeping on your side is a popular sleeping position, but it can place a lot of pressure on your shoulders if not done correctly. When you sleep on your side, make sure to use a supportive pillow that keeps your head aligned with your neck and spine. Additionally, placing a pillow between your arms or legs can help maintain proper alignment and reduce stress on your shoulders.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach may be comfortable for some, but it can be detrimental to your shoulders. When you sleep on your stomach, your shoulders are forced into an unnatural position, leading to strain and discomfort. It is best to avoid sleeping on your stomach altogether to prevent shoulder pain and promote better spinal alignment.

Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is often considered the best sleeping position for overall spinal alignment. However, it can still cause shoulder pain if not done correctly. To sleep comfortably on your back, use a pillow that adequately supports the curve of your neck and keeps your head aligned with your spine. Placing a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees can also help maintain the natural curvature of your spine and alleviate stress on your shoulders.

Choosing the Right Sleep Surface

Selecting the right sleep surface can make a world of difference when it comes to shoulder pain while sleeping. Let’s take a look at two essential factors to consider: mattress firmness and pillow support.

Mattress Firmness

Choosing the right firmness level for your mattress is crucial for ensuring proper support for your shoulders. A mattress that is too firm can put excessive pressure on your shoulder joints, while a mattress that is too soft may not provide adequate support. Consider opting for a medium-firm mattress that strikes a balance between comfort and support, allowing your shoulders to rest in a neutral position.

Pillow Support

Having the right pillow support is just as important as mattress firmness when it comes to preventing shoulder pain during sleep. Your pillow should keep your head, neck, and shoulders aligned to maintain a neutral spine position. Side sleepers may prefer a thicker pillow to fill the gap between the neck and shoulder, while back sleepers might benefit from a thinner pillow that doesn’t elevate the head too much.

Common Shoulder Injuries and Conditions That Cause Nighttime Pain

Shoulder pain while sleeping can also be a result of various injuries and conditions affecting the shoulder joint. Understanding these common ailments can help identify the underlying cause of your shoulder pain. Here are some of the most frequent shoulder injuries and conditions that cause nighttime pain:

Rotator Cuff Tear

A rotator cuff tear occurs when one or more of the tendons in the rotator cuff, a group of muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint, become damaged or torn. This injury can cause significant pain during sleep, particularly when lying on the affected side.


Bursae are small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles around the joints. When these bursae become inflamed, it leads to a condition known as bursitis. Shoulder bursitis can cause pain, tenderness, and swelling, making it uncomfortable to sleep on the affected shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. The condition progresses through three stages, with the most painful and restrictive stage occurring during the “freezing” phase. During this phase, sleeping on the affected shoulder can cause intense pain and worsen the symptoms.


Tendinitis refers to inflammation and irritation of a tendon, which is the tissue that connects muscles to bones. Shoulder tendinitis often affects the tendons of the rotator cuff, leading to pain and tenderness that can be exacerbated by certain sleeping positions.


Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can affect various joints in the body, including the shoulder. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause nighttime shoulder pain, making it difficult to find a comfortable sleep position.

Why Does Sleeping Hurt My Shoulders?

Dealing with Muscle Imbalances and Weakness

Muscle imbalances and weakness in the shoulder can contribute to shoulder pain when sleeping. Strengthening exercises, stretching routines, and posture correction can help alleviate these imbalances and improve the overall health of your shoulders.

Strengthening Exercises

Engaging in targeted strengthening exercises can help address muscle imbalances and weakness in the shoulder. Exercises such as shoulder presses, lateral raises, and rows can help strengthen the muscles that support the shoulder joint. It is important to start with light weights and gradually increase the intensity as you build strength. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a certified trainer can provide guidance on the most suitable exercises for your specific needs.

Stretching Routine

In addition to strengthening exercises, incorporating a regular stretching routine can help improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension in the shoulder area. Stretching the chest, shoulders, and upper back can help alleviate tightness and increase range of motion. Gentle stretches should be held for 15-30 seconds without bouncing or forcing the movement. Remember to breathe deeply and relax into each stretch.

Posture Correction

Improving your posture can significantly reduce shoulder pain during sleep. Poor posture can contribute to muscle imbalances and strain on the shoulder joint. Focus on maintaining proper alignment by sitting and standing with your shoulders back and down. Using ergonomic chairs and desks, as well as consciously adjusting your posture throughout the day, can also help prevent and relieve shoulder pain.

Ways to Reduce Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

Now that we’ve explored the common causes of shoulder pain when sleeping, let’s discuss some strategies to alleviate discomfort and improve your sleep quality.

Adjusting Your Sleeping Position

The first step in reducing shoulder pain while sleeping is to adjust your sleeping position. As mentioned earlier, side sleepers should use a supportive pillow and consider placing a pillow between their arms or legs to maintain proper alignment. Stomach sleepers should strive to switch to a different sleeping position that doesn’t strain their shoulders. Back sleepers should focus on using a pillow that provides adequate support for their neck and keeps their head aligned with their spine.

Using Pillows for Support

In addition to using pillows for proper alignment, you can also use additional pillows to support your shoulders. Placing a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your affected shoulder can help relieve pressure and reduce pain. Experiment with different pillow arrangements and sizes to find the most comfortable and supportive configuration for your shoulder.

Heat or Cold Therapy

Applying heat or cold therapy to your shoulder before going to bed can help alleviate pain and inflammation, making sleep more comfortable. Heat therapy, such as a warm shower or heating pad, can help relax muscles and increase blood flow to the area. Cold therapy, such as an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel, can numb the area and reduce swelling. Experiment with both heat and cold therapies to see which provides the most relief for your shoulder pain.

Over-the-counter Pain Relief

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or analgesics, can help temporarily relieve shoulder pain when sleeping. However, it is important to follow the recommended dosage and consult with a healthcare professional if the pain persists or worsens. Long-term reliance on medication should be discussed with a medical professional to address the underlying cause of the shoulder pain.

Consulting a Healthcare Professional

If shoulder pain when sleeping persists or significantly affects your quality of life, it is advisable to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional. A healthcare professional can evaluate your situation, diagnose any underlying conditions or injuries, and provide a comprehensive treatment plan. They may recommend physical therapy, prescribe medication, or suggest alternative therapies to help manage your shoulder pain.

In conclusion, shoulder pain when sleeping can significantly impact your sleep quality and overall well-being. By understanding the common causes of shoulder pain, the effects of different sleeping positions on the shoulders, and implementing strategies to reduce pain, you can improve your sleep and wake up refreshed and pain-free. Remember to prioritize your sleep health and consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment, as they can provide personalized recommendations based on your individual needs and condition.

Why Does Sleeping Hurt My Shoulders?

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