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Blog Sleep & Wellness

How Do I Get Rid Of Shoulder Pain From Sleeping On My Side?

From the Puffy Editorial Team | 11 min read.
How Do I Get Rid Of Shoulder Pain From Sleeping On My Side?

Do you experience shoulder pain when you’re sleeping? Shoulder pain is one of the worst physical discomforts that can disrupt your sleep. Many people that have shoulder pain from sleeping also develop neck pain - it can lead to a limited range of motion and serious health conditions if left untreated. With shoulder pain, you won’t be able to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep and will experience pain, fatigue, and discomfort the next day.

If you’re wondering how to get rid of shoulder pain, you’re in the right place! However, before eliminating the problem, we need to understand the cause of shoulder pain and how to prevent it from happening again.

Table of Contents

What Are The Causes Of Shoulder Pain From Sleeping on Side?

What Are The Causes Of Shoulder Pain From Sleeping? | Puffy

Shoulder pain from sleeping on side is the most common cause of a sore shoulder and stiffness. A recent study concluded the relationship between side sleeping and shoulder pain - it reported that 67% of its participants that experience shoulder pain at night are side sleepers. Even though sleeping on your side is the most popular sleeping position - if you wake up with arm numbness or shoulder pain, you may need to consider changing your sleep position.

This position may sometimes add too much pressure on your shoulder and neck muscles, especially if you have an unsupportive mattress. However, sleeping on your side isn’t the only cause of shoulder pain at night. Here are the most common conditions for shoulder pain that can actually be deteriorated by sleeping on your side.

Rotator cuff injuries and tears

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. It attaches the rear of the upper arm, the part just above the elbow, with your shoulder blade. These muscles are used when you reach over your head, raise your arm to the side, or make a throwing motion - in conclusion, when rotating your arm. Rotator cuff injuries (RCI) occur when the tendons are inflamed or have a tear. As a result, your shoulder blade will swell, and you’ll feel pain in your shoulder when you sleep on it. This can also cause stiffness and limit your movement.

Rotator cuff tears are a common sign of old age and usually wear down with time but they can also happen from injuries like falling on an outstretched arm or carrying a heavy load. RCI is common among seniors above 80 years old but it can also happen earlier if you're excessively using your arm for heavy-duty tasks, like construction or manual labor jobs.

Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is inflammation or infection in the shoulder joint caused by the bursa (a small fluid-filled sac) rubbing against the joint. The inflammation could be due to an injury to the joint, repetitive use of the joint, or an infection. Symptoms include pain in the joints, stiffness, and a limited range of motion.
The condition is usually caused by overuse of the muscles in the shoulder, as well as from repetitive movements and prolonged periods of static positions. Treatment for mild cases of shoulder bursitis can include resting your shoulder or taking anti-inflammatories for the pain. However, if left untreated for a long period, you may need a corticosteroid injection into the painful area for relief or surgery to remove the damaged section of the bone.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a disorder where the shoulder joint is stiff and painful. It may be due to inflammation in the joint capsule or damage to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments surrounding the shoulder joint. It is an issue that affects adults aged 40-60 years old but can happen to anybody who has had an injury to their shoulder.

This condition may regress during the evening or at night, which can make sleeping on your shoulder difficult. Frozen shoulder usually develops gradually over weeks but can take months to fully set in. Treatment options may include corticosteroid injections or surgery if it goes on for more than a few months.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement is a condition caused by the inflammation of the tendons that run across the shoulder joint. The tendons are squeezed or pinched in the shoulder socket, which causes pain and inflammation. Most people experience shoulder pain, stiffness, and limitations in movement when they sleep on their arm or use it to support their head.

The causes of shoulder impingement include joint inflammation, frequent overhead movements, arthritis, bursitis, and rotator cuff tendonitis. It doesn’t need to occur from a shoulder injury, it can happen if the shoulder joint becomes too narrow and starts to restrict your movement.


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Having osteoarthritis means that the cartilage in your joints has been worn away, and this leads to bone rubbing on bone. The shoulder condition can be caused by old age, overweight, or a shoulder injury, such as an RCI or dislocated shoulder.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain with arm movement or while you’re resting on it. You may also frequently hear clicking sounds when you move your shoulder. Painful osteoarthritis affects one in five adults aged 45 years or older. However, treatment is simple and mostly requires taking oral or topical pain relievers.

How Do I Relieve Shoulder Pain?

How Do I Relieve Shoulder Pain? | Puffy

There are a few remedies that you can try before seeing a doctor in the initial stages of shoulder pain that may help relieve some of the symptoms and they include:

  • Changing Your Sleep Position - If your sleeping position isn’t the main cause for your shoulder pain from sleeping, it is definitely making it worse. Sleeping on the same side all night long will generate pain and numbness in your arm and shoulder. You should try and sleep on the opposite side of the affected shoulder or on your back to lessen shoulder pain from sleeping. Sleeping on your back will distribute your weight evenly and will relieve the pressure from your shoulders.
  • Use Anti-inflammatories Or Pain Relievers - It is common to use over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatories with shoulder pain from sleeping. Harvard Health recommends a few options, such as acetaminophen, like Tylenol, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, like Advil or ibuprofen. If the pain doesn’t improve in a few weeks or gets worse, it is recommended to see a doctor. Your doctor may also require you to take corticosteroids, which significantly reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids can be used in cases like frozen shoulder, RCI’s, or other shoulder injuries.
  • Exercises And Stretches For Your Shoulders - An effective way to reduce shoulder pain is by strengthening your shoulder muscle and increasing your range of mobility. Physical therapy is recommended for shoulder injuries, but it can also be used if you’re feeling stiffness or discomfort in your shoulders. A few popular stretching exercises you can try are the pendulum stretch, shoulder rolls, or cross-body shoulder stretch. Neck stretches also help release tension from the shoulders and will help smoothen your shoulder movement. If these stretches are increasing the pain, then you should stop and consult a physical therapist about this.
  • Use Heat Or Ice Pads - his may be an old method to reduce pain, swelling, or inflammation - but it works! Using a heating pad can reduce stiffness and relax tense shoulder muscles, which is great for those who suffer from arthritis. On the other hand, ice pads are well-known for reducing inflammation and swellness.

How to Prevent Shoulder Pain From Happening Again?

How to Prevent Shoulder Pain From Happening Again? | Puffy

Now that you’ve experienced how uncomfortable and disturbing shoulder pain can be, here are a few ways to prevent this from happening again in the future.

Change Positions While Sleeping

Sleeping on the same side of your injured shoulder will increase the pain and may exacerbate the condition. It can be hard to change a sleep position that you’re used to, and sometimes it happens without you even noticing. However, you should prevent yourself from sleeping on the affected arm by using pillows to create a blockage so you don’t turn on that side by accident while sleeping. Instead, try combining other sleeping positions like sleeping on the opposite side and back sleeping - if you can only sleep on your affected side then try to regularly shift between both sides.

A recent study concluded that changing your sleep position can eliminate or prevent shoulder pain from happening. It may be strange at first, but eventually, you’ll find a comfortable position that you can sleep in.

Change Your Mattress

If your mattress is too hard or too soft, you can develop shoulder pain from sleeping on side. Experts suggest using a medium-firm pillow that will reduce musculoskeletal pain, which affects shoulder joints, tendons, and muscles. Have you ever wondered what a hybrid mattress is and how it can help alleviate shoulder pain? The Puffy Lux Mattress is a hybrid memory foam mattress that contours your body, creates extra stability, and minimizes strain from your body’s pressure points, like your back and shoulders.

Additionally, choosing the right pillow is also vital to reducing shoulder pain. For side sleepers, a thick puffy pillow that fits the natural curve of the neck and adequately fills the gap between your head and shoulders is recommended. This will help alleviate some of the pressure off your shoulders and reduce the risk of developing neck pain.

Practice Better Sleep Hygiene

Sleep deprivation can take a toll on your mental health, emotional state, and body - not getting enough sleep can also develop health risks and body aches. This is because when your body doesn’t get efficient rest, it isn’t able to function properly. Sleeping in a sleep environment that encourages sleep will help you get more restful sleep. This means your room should be dark, quiet, and at a cool temperature, to eliminate any sleep interruptions.

Additionally, consider trying to develop a healthy and relaxing bedtime routine. This should include things like avoiding your phone or the TV before sleeping and drinking your last cup of coffee or other stimulants at least 5 hours before bedtime.

Regular Exercise

This may seem like an obvious point, but it’ll surprise you how just a few stretches can reduce shoulder pain from sleeping or prevent it from happening.

If you have shoulder pain, consider doing shoulder stretches before sleeping and when you wake up in the morning. This is a great way to flex your muscles and prevent them from stiffening.

Generally, staying active and exercising boosts your health and can assist in healing shoulder injuries faster - similar to physical therapy.


Can you damage your shoulder by sleeping on it?

If you sleep on your shoulder all night long, you may wake up with shoulder stiffness, pain, or arm numbness. Sleeping on your shoulder for a long period adds a lot of pressure on your shoulder muscles. It is recommended to combine switching on both sides with sleeping on your back to relieve some pressure from your shoulder.

How do I get rid of shoulder pain when I wake up?

If you wake up with shoulder pain in the morning, you should do a few shoulder exercises to reduce the pain and loosen your muscles. The most popular and easiest exercises are shoulder rolls, cross-body stretch, neck rotation, and the pendulum stretch - which is outstretching your arm and moving it in small circular motions.

How do I relieve shoulder pain from sleeping on side?

Most shoulder pain from sleep is because of sleeping in an uncomfortable sleep posture or from an injury. You can try a few remedies at home to relieve some of the symptoms, like using ice for inflammation, heating pads for muscle tension, and consider taking pain relievers or anti-inflammatories for a few days.

When To See A Doctor

If you’re experiencing severe shoulder pain from sleeping on your side or the pain persists for more than a few weeks, it is time for you to schedule an appointment with the doctor. Sleeping on the opposite side may temporarily help your condition, but a doctor will be able to get to the root of the problem and fix it.

Your Turn...

Do experience shoulder pain while sleeping? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.

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