Shoulder Pain While Sleeping: 8 Pain-Relieving Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Shoulder pain can be a debilitating condition to live with and if left untreated, could cause even further damage. Following on from our much-appreciated article about managing shoulder pain, we’ll delve a little deeper into this condition that affects over 36 million American adults.   

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain from sleeping, you might be tempted to mask it with pharmaceuticals. Did you know that $20 billion is spent on medication for back and neck pain every year? (and increasing). Pain medication is big business but is there a more holistic approach to managing shoulder pain?

A common cause of shoulder pain while sleeping is due to rotator cuff tendinitis

The following tips that you’ll find in this article can be implemented immediately and could offer some pain relief tonight. Of course, these are not to be substituted for medical treatment. If you’re suffering badly with shoulder pain, it’s best to consult your doctor immediately.   

What Causes Shoulder Pain at Night?

A common cause of shoulder pain while sleeping is due to rotator cuff tendinitis. When the shoulder tendons become irritated causing inflammation and pain.  The delicate tendons that surround your shoulder joint can be easily injured but can also be easily treated.

How Does Rotator Cuff Injury Occur? 

  • Accident: 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’re delicate creatures who need rest to repair our bodies. If you’re constantly lifting heavy objects or engaging in strenuous activity; decorating, lifting your arms over your head to reach high objects. Constant activity puts a strain on your shoulders
  • Sports: certain sports are more prone to causing rotator cuff injury. Baseball, tennis, and basketball are enjoyable sports but prolonged play without essential rest could result in injury  
  • Sleeping wrong: Sleeping in the wrong or 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 the least painful during sleep. Learn more about different sleeping positions in our guide to sleep positions here.

What are the symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury? 

  • Deep pain in the shoulder that can feel like a dull ache
  • Pain is more severe when using the affected arm
  • Loss or diminished motion in the affected arm
  • Sleeping on the affected shoulder is impossible    

Are Side Sleepers More Susceptible to Rotator Cuff Injury?

Shoulder pain from sleeping on side, either right or left is a nuisance and can severely impact your quality of life. Side sleeper shoulder pain can be aggravated further when sleeping on a mattress that is too firm. The best mattress for shoulder pain will be soft and provide optimal pressure relief to align the spin and give ultimate sleep comfort. If you’re experiencing severe shoulder pain after sleeping wrong, it could mean you need to amend your sleep position. Check out our handy guide here to find a better sleep position tonight. Side sleepers are no more predisposed to rotator cuff injury than anyone else.   

Why do I wake up with pain in my shoulder?

A common reason for shoulder pain while sleeping is rotator cuff tendinitis which can occur for many reasons. Sleeping in an uncomfortable position, poor day time posture, injury from sports or falling. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain seek medical advice and rest your injured shoulder as much as possible. Taking care not to sleep on the injured arm. 

What Helps Shoulder Pain While Sleeping?

Put a Pillow Between Your Knees

Side sleepers could experience relief from shoulder pain from sleeping by putting a pillow between your knees. This could reduce stress on your hips and lower back by aligning the spine better, preventing any further strains that could aggravate the shoulder area further.  

Sleep on Your Other Side

If you’re a die-hard side sleeper than yippie-ki-yay, you don’t have to give up your most favored 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 to not seep on the injured shoulder because we’re creatures of habit. So be careful not to roll over.  

Change your Sleeping Position

Your favored sleep position can change throughout your lifetime, especially if you’re managing an injury. If you’ve never considered switching sleep positions, check out this guide and see which one looks the coziest for you. If you experience severe shoulder pain after sleeping, alternating sleep positions could help your recovery from shoulder pain, allowing your tendons some relief from stress.  

Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

Healthy sleep hygiene is essential in your recovery from shoulder pain. If you’re not getting a consistent eight hours of sleep per night, you’re not allowing your body the time it needs to rest and recuperate. 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. Rest is essential to recovery.  

Choose a Supportive Pillow for Your Head

A supportive pillow under your head, while you sleep, is just as important as sleeping on a quality mattress. Your spine is better aligned when your head is adequately supported, resulting in less strain on your neck and back. 

Stay Active

When suffering shoulder pain the last thing you want to do is exercise but staying active could aid your recovery. Stick to gentle exercises such as yoga, aqua aerobics, walking, or simple stretching exercises. As long as you're not putting any undue pressure or strain on the affected shoulder, gentle exercise could make you feel better and also help you sleep better too.  

Avoid Sleeping on Your Arm

Stomach sleepers are notorious for sleeping on their arms if you’re a tummy sleeper then do your best to not sleep on your arm. No matter what your sleep position, keep your arms as stationary by your sides as possible, just like a sleepy nutcracker.  

Find a supportive mattress that Suits Your Sleeping Position

If you make all the suggestions mentioned here but still suffer shoulder pain from sleeping, it might be time to upgrade your mattress. The best mattress for shoulder pain offers superior pressure relief that supports your body weight and comfortably aligns your spine and hips.    


As you can see, there are many options to holistically manage shoulder pain. 

What helps shoulder pain while sleeping 

  1. Pillow between your knees
  2. Sleeping on your other Side 
  3. Changing your sleeping position 
  4. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule 
  5. Choosing a supportive pillow for your head
  6. Staying active during the day 
  7. Not sleeping on your arms
  8. Upgrading to a more supportive mattress

Whether you’re managing pain or recovering from an illness, your body needs good sleep to fully recover. If you’re sleeping on a mattress that doesn’t allow you to sleep through the night because it’s uncomfortable, it might be time to think about upgrading.

A mattress that offers premium pressure relief will cradle your body in a supportive hug. A pressure relief mattress supports your body and has been specifically designed to aid shoulder pain recovery. Nolah specializes in producing award-winning pressure relieving mattresses that will bring rest, recuperation and beautiful restful sleep back to your nights.