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How to Sleep with Shoulder Pain

With all the stress and hustle of modern life, it seems like everyone deals with shoulder pain. Whether as a chronic condition or just from time to time, learning how to sleep with shoulder pain becomes a necessary skill.

After all, a good night’s sleep is one of the key elements to any recovery, so shoulder pain can become a vicious cycle if left unresolved.

As we begin, if your shoulder pain is severe enough and/or part of a potential serious injury, you should seek a doctor’s help and guidance. 

We’ve all been there with “regular-old” shoulder pain though. Lying awake. Tossing and turning. Believing sleep to be impossible due to the pressure and pain we feel in our shoulders. 

Yet some people manage or even give themselves a fighting chance against shoulder pain with smart sleeping choices. How do they do it? 

That’s the good news, they don’t keep secrets. We have built up a host of different methods you can try to help sleep with shoulder pain. It does take some effort and consistency, but learning to sleep in a way to mitigate your pain is worth it.

Let us break it down for you:

Before Bedtime

The first steps you can take happen before you even hit the hay. These steps can help give you a foundation to start healing. 

Note that if any cause pain or aggravate your symptoms, stop right then and there and try a different method. The causes of shoulder pain are diverse, so the treatments should be as well.


Massages are one of the most effective ways to relieve muscle tension, relieve pain, and get the blood flowing in your body. All three can help you sleep with shoulder pain. 

That much should be clear to anyone that has ever fallen asleep during a massage. The relief and relaxation that they can offer is hard to match.

Unfortunately, the shoulder is one of the harder places for a self-massage, unless you’re fairly flexible. Making a massage appointment in the afternoon or evening can give lasting benefits, but a massage before bed is obviously hard to beat.

It is worth it to explore specially designed self-massage tools, and find one that works for you. But if that is not an option, you can always use the trusty tennis ball. Placing the ball on the floor or wall, and using your body weight, roll your shoulder over the ball to give yourself a massage in the harder to reach areas of your shoulder and back.

Try out massages and see if they help handle the shoulder pain at the source before bedtime. It is worth the effort to try this one out!


There are a multitude of stretches you do before bed that may give you some relief from shoulder pain for the evening.

  • Shoulder rolls: roll your shoulders forward and backward a few times in each direction. Don’t overextend yourself, keep the movement natural.
  • Shoulder shrugs: shrug your shoulders upwards a few times, again taking care to not overextend yourself.
  • Neck release: lower your chin until it almost presses against your chest. You should feel a light stretch already. Move your chin to either side to stretch the shoulder opposite.
  • Downward Dog and/or Child’s Pose: classic yoga positions for a reason, they open your shoulders up and relieve tension.

There are many more stretches you can try out for yourself, feel free to find what is right for you. It is worth the effort to get this part right, not every stretch will be the one fix. These are simply the ones we find easiest to incorporate into your routine.


Staying active in any way that you can manage is a good way to help yourself sleep with shoulder pain. Regular exercise, in a way that does not exacerbate your shoulder pain symptoms, can increase blood flow and circulation to your affected areas.

If your shoulder pain stems from an injury, these efforts can help your muscles and tendons heal faster. To be clear: avoid the activities that aggravate your shoulder pain and increase irritation, but do not be afraid to work the areas that are tender. 

If desired, a physical therapist can help you with exercises and stretches that target most effectively and that will not exacerbate the symptoms or cause more problems. Seek out professional help if you have these concerns, they are worth the time and effort to get right!

As with most fixes that require changing or adding to your routine, start small and consistent. You may not see immediate progress, but relief will come if you stick with it!

Anti-inflammatory Proactivity

The root cause of much of the shoulder pain people experience at bedtime comes from inflammation. This can be from minor injuries or from chronic conditions. 

Many of the medical diagnoses start with inflammation, focusing then on specific parts of the shoulder, like the rotator cuff and your shoulder joint.

So it makes sense that a little proactive anti-inflammatory steps could help alleviate the worst symptoms and help you fall asleep and stay asleep with shoulder pain. These steps can come from many places, including diet, over the counter medication, and application of ice.

Anti-inflammatory foods such as seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables, and fatty fish are excellent to incorporate into your diet for many health-related reasons. If you suffer from acute shoulder pain when you sleep, they can add just a little bit to the overall process to alleviate that pain.

NSAIDs and other OTC medication, with brand names like Advil and Aleve, NSAIDS are another option to try before bedtime. They fight against the inflammation by blocking a specific mechanism in the body that leads to inflammation. It’s in the name NSAID, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Ice is simple, yet very effective at alleviating inflammatory shoulder pain to help you get to sleep. Applying an ice pack for fifteen minutes before bed can help you get to sleep in the first place, and then the other actions you have taken can help you to stay asleep with shoulder pain.

During Bedtime

Now that you’ve done all you can before bed, it is time to address the steps you can take in bed to help sleep through or with shoulder pain.

Sleep Position

These steps to help sleep with shoulder pain start with body position. How you sleep may seem predetermined and out of your control. It’s a truism: some people sleep on their backs, some on their sides, and some on their chests. This is not the case in the way that you may think.

Yes, these are not innate characteristics like some may believe. you can actually change your sleep position and in turn help yourself to sleep with shoulder pain and sometimes, if you are fortunate enough, eliminate it entirely!

As with most shoulder pain relief exercises, sleep position is not a one-size-fits-all situation. It may take some time to find the one right for you. A good way to start is to identify what position you sleep in and think if it is causing you shoulder pain. 

Typically, sleeping on your back is the recommended position to help with shoulder pain while you rest. Aside from putting less pressure on the affected shoulder, sleeping on your back aligns your spine and can help with other body aches as well! Try elevating your legs for added benefit.

For those of you who sleep on your stomach, try to avoid bringing your arms up and under you and your pillow. Doing so increases the tension on your shoulders, and that may be causing some pain that you feel. It may feel awkward at first, but sleeping with your arms at your side is probably the way to go.

Sleeping on the unaffected shoulder is the next step to take if sleeping on your back does not help. You may want to keep pressure off the shoulder that hurts, as keeping your body weight on top of the affected area for an entire night can seriously aggravate the situation.

Counterintuitively, sleeping on the affected shoulder also offers relief for a few select cases. The body weight pressure that causes problems for some can act as relief for others. It may seem crazy, but it works for some people.

The hard part is: you’re asleep when you’re asleep. You just will not be aware enough to ensure that the changes you want to make actually happen. So, how do you enforce these changes if you want to make them? 

Pillows to help with Shoulder Pain

Choosing a pillow and the strategic use of them can help you to fall and stay asleep even with shoulder pain. If it comes to it, there are even specialty pillows available that can help frame things in the correct fashion, but classic pillows can do the job too.

The pillow you lay your head on should be your first priority. No pillow will work for everyone, but generally speaking, it should provide some head and neck support. As you sleep, it should hold some weight for you, otherwise it could be contributing to your neck and shoulder pain.

The right pillow can move you from someone who tosses and turns all night to someone who comfortably stays in one position. However, if you are just not able to stay in position by yourself, pillows can play another role.

A second pillow, placed behind your back if you are a side sleeper, can keep you on the side you wish to sleep on. Preventing yourself from rolling onto the affected shoulder can often completely solve the shoulder pain issue, at least with regard to staying asleep.

You can even use pillows to surround yourself and “force” you to sleep on your back. A pillow under the knees has also shown to help with pain up and down the body by helping to keep you and your spine aligned in the way you want.

Combine and See

Now that you’ve learned all of these methods, it can be tempting to find one that works and stick to it, ignoring the others. Success can be temporary however, so don’t be complacent with a method that only partially relieves the issue to allow you to get to sleep with shoulder.

After all, shoulder pain when sleeping is often a holistic problem that demands a holistic solution. If you can’t get to sleep and stay asleep, your pain will just continue to get worse and worse, and can even spread up the neck and down the back. 

Therefore, we suggest for anyone asking how to sleep with shoulder pain to not just accept and push through the pain, but work to remedy the situation to the best of their ability. 

You may be simply unlucky and it may be outside your control, but it is always worth the effort to try a holistic solution.

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We can’t wait to welcome you in to experience Lemon + Honey luxury firsthand — sign up below to receive 20% off your first treatment.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.