Shoulder Pain While Sleeping: 7 Pain-Relieving Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

If you struggle to sleep due to shoulder pain, you may be interested in treating the pain with pharmaceuticals. 

With the U.S. painkiller projected to reach $5.9 billion by 2023, pain medication is big business. However, long-term use of many pain medications, particularly opioids, can have significant side effects and lead to dependence and addiction. 

That's why we'd like to explore natural remedies and tips that can help relieve your shoulder pain. As you read, remember that we aren't medical professionals—you should see your doctor before making health or habit changes and if your symptoms don't improve.


What Causes Shoulder Pain at Night?

One common cause of shoulder pain while sleeping is rotator cuff tendinitis. Your rotator cuff features four tendons that control the rotation and elevation of your upper arm. These tendons work together with the deltoid muscle to support your shoulder’s strength and movement.

When shoulder muscles and tendons become irritated, it causes inflammation and pain. The delicate tendons surrounding your shoulder joint can easily sustain injuries, but thankfully, you can usually treat them with physical therapy and rest.

How Does Rotator Cuff Injury Occur? 

A rotator cuff injury can occur due to repetitive movement of the shoulder, such as throwing a ball or swinging a golf club. People who work at desks all day are also prone to rotator cuff injuries because they tend to hunch over and use their arms in an unnatural way for long periods.

Common Causes of Rotator Cuff Injury:

  • Accidents– Falling on your outstretched arms or attempting to lift something of considerable weight can cause an abrupt jolt to your delicate shoulder tendons.
  • Wear and Tear– We like to think we’re indestructible, but the truth is, we need rest to repair our bodies. If you frequently lift heavy objects or engage in strenuous activity, the constant use puts a strain on your shoulders.
  • Sports– Playing intense sports like baseball, tennis, and basketball can result in injury if the player doesn't take time to rest.
  • Sleeping Wrong– Sleeping in an uncomfortable position could cause rotator cuff inflammation and injury. To prevent shoulder pain from sleeping wrong, try to adjust your sleeping position to find one that feels right. You can learn here in our guide to sleep positions.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury

Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the injury. The most common symptom is pain that worsens when you lift your arm above shoulder height. Some other symptoms include:

  • Radiating pain in the shoulder that may feel like a dull ache
  • Pain when moving your arm or shoulder (especially lifting heavy objects or reaching behind your back)
  • Loss or diminished range of motion in the affected arm (aka "frozen shoulder")
  • Increased pain when sleeping on the affected shoulder

If the condition worsens, it could cause difficulty moving your arm due to weakness caused by the inflammation of these delicate tissues around your joint.

What Helps Shoulder Pain While Sleeping?

Physical therapy can relieve the pain of rotator cuff injury, but until you recover, you may still experience some physical discomfort during sleep. These simple solutions can help you to find relief and get a better night’s sleep on the road to recovery. 

1. Sleep on Your Other Side

If you’re a dedicated side sleeper, don’t worry—you don't have to give up your favorite sleep position to find relief. Simply flip over and sleep on your opposite shoulder. It may seem like an obvious solution, but it will take some conscious effort not to sleep on the injured shoulder.

You may find yourself sleeping in a different position and turning over during the night. If you wake up on the wrong side, simply flip back over and try again.

2. Put a Pillow Between Your Knees

Side sleepers should also consider placing a pillow between their knees to alleviate shoulder pain by promoting proper spinal alignment. Keeping your body aligned during sleep reduces joint pressure and can prevent injury.

Sleeping with a pillow between your knees could also prevent you from unconsciously rolling over onto your injured shoulder while you sleep.

3. Change your Sleeping Position

Your preferred sleep position can change throughout your lifetime, particularly while you manage an injury.

While sleeping on your uninjured side is an option, you could also consider sleeping on your back to relieve pressure on your shoulder. Just make sure to avoid sleeping on your arm by keeping both arms stationary by your sides.

If you’re a stomach sleeper, however, you should consider switching things up. Sleeping on your stomach will cause the shoulders to sag forward, causing more strain on your neck and shoulders. If you’ve never considered switching sleep positions, check out this guide and see which one looks most comfortable. 

4. Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

​​Studies show that sleep deprivation can slow injury recovery, meaning healthy sleep hygiene may help treat shoulder pain. If you don't get a consistent eight hours of sleep per night, your body won't get the rest it needs to recuperate.

To promote consistent, quality sleep, try to keep a healthy sleep schedule by going to bed at a set hour every night and getting up at a set time every morning, even on your days off.   

5. Stay Active

When you have an injury, the last thing you want to do is exercise, but staying active is essential to your overall health and sleep hygiene.

Stick to gentle exercises such as yoga, aqua aerobics, or walking to avoid putting any undue pressure or strain on the affected shoulder. After the pain subsides, you can also add some simple stretching exercises to strengthen your rotator cuff and prevent further injury or loss of movement.

6. Choose a Supportive Pillow for Your Head

Sleeping with your head elevated can help relieve some of that tension from muscles in the neck and shoulders due to gravity's pull. Your spine is better aligned when your head is adequately supported, resulting in less strain on your neck and back.

7. Upgrade to a More Supportive Mattress

A quality mattress is essential to a good night’s sleep. If you find yourself waking up every few hours because your bed is uncomfortable or too firm, it might be time for an upgrade! 

The best mattress for shoulder pain ensures your body is supported and aligned correctly at all times. When shopping for a mattress that helps combat shoulder pain, look for a firm option with superior pressure relief. Consider Nolah's pressure-relieving mattresses for ultimate shoulder comfort and support. 


If you experience shoulder pain, these habits and holistic solutions may help manage the pain and correct an injury. 

Still, you should have your doctor assess your shoulders, as you may need further intervention like physical therapy. Especially if your shoulder pain comes from a severe injury or a chronic condition, you'll need professional support to care for your body properly.