Waking up with shoulder pain and stiffness is an unpleasant and common problem for many people. While occasional shoulder discomfort from sleeping can happen to anyone, ongoing and chronic shoulder pain often indicates an issue with your sleep position or mattress. The good news is that adjusting your sleep setup and habits can help relieve and prevent shoulder pain from sleeping. Here are some tips to get rid of shoulder discomfort and wake up pain-free.
Choose the Right Sleep Position
The way you sleep plays a huge role in shoulder pain. Sleeping in positions that twist the neck or strain the shoulders can lead to irritation, limited mobility, and inflammation. Pay attention to your preferred sleep positions and aim to pick postures that keep the neck, head, and shoulders properly aligned.
The best sleeping position to avoid shoulder pain is on your back. Sleeping on the back keeps the head, neck, and shoulders neutrally aligned without any twisting. Use a slim pillow under the head to maintain the natural curve of the neck if needed. Avoid thick pillows which can angle the neck too far forward or back.
Sleeping on the side can also work well if done properly. Use a firm pillow to fill the space between the ear and outside shoulder. This keeps the head and neck straight while side sleeping. Draw the knees up slightly toward the chest as well. Keep the hips and knees aligned to prevent rotating the shoulders forward. Avoid sleeping with the arm overhead which strains the shoulder joint.
Stomach sleeping generally causes shoulder pain since it twists the neck to the side. Use a slim pillow under the stomach to keep the neck in a more neutral position if you prefer to sleep this way. Switching to side or back sleeping is ideal though for preventing shoulder discomfort.
Invest in an Ergonomic Pillow
The right pillow plays an important role in keeping your head, neck, and shoulders properly supported during sleep. Your pillow should conform to the natural curves of the neck and keep the head level with the mattress.
Look for a pillow designed specifically to reduce neck and shoulder pain. An ergonomic memory foam contour pillow or cervical support pillow helps align the shoulders, neck, and head. The contours adapt to the curves of your neck for customized comfort and support. Water-based gel pillows are another option since they mold to the shape of the head and neck.
Avoid pillows that are either too lofty or too flat. Thick pillows push the head up and forward at an odd angle while flat pillows don’t provide enough support. The ideal pillow height keeps your head, neck, and spine neutrally aligned.
Adjust Your Mattress
An uncomfortable or unsupportive mattress can contribute to shoulder and neck aches. A mattress that sags over time fails to keep the spine in proper alignment leading to pain. Excessively soft mattresses also let the shoulders and hips sink in too deeply which twists the neck and back.
Upgrading to a medium-firm mattress designed to conform to the spine’s natural curves can help. Memory foam and latex mattresses evenly distribute body weight to reduce pressure points. If buying a new mattress isn’t feasible, try placing plywood boards under the mattress to reinforce sagging areas. You can also add a mattress topper to make a too soft mattress more supportive.
Try Shoulder Stretches and Exercises
Gentle stretching and exercise can alleviate shoulder tightness from sleeping. Start by doing shoulder rolls forward and back. Clasp the hands behind the back and pull the arms up to stretch the front of the shoulders. Hold the elbow with the opposite hand and gently pull across the chest to target the shoulders one at a time.
Doorway stretches also open up the chest and front of the shoulders. Stand in a doorway with the forearms against the doorframe. Lean forward through the doorway to stretch the chest and shoulders. Apply a heating pad or ice pack to tight shoulders as needed to encourage circulation and relaxation.
Targeted exercises help strengthen the muscles around the shoulders as well. Do wall push ups or shoulder presses with light weights. Use resistance bands to perform external rotation exercises to improve mobility. Building strength in the rotator cuff helps support and stabilize the shoulder joint.
Watch Your Posture During the Day
Poor posture during waking hours often translates to poor sleeping posture as well. Slumping forward at a desk or looking down frequently reinforces bad habits. Tight chest and shoulder muscles from bad daily posture can make it hard to sleep in a properly aligned position.
Make an effort to improve posture during the day to avoid shoulder pain at night. Sit or stand tall with open chest and keep the shoulders down and back. Take regular breaks from phones and computers to do shoulder and neck stretches. Using a posture correcting brace can serve as a helpful reminder to keep the shoulders back.
Addressing posture issues while awake trains the body to maintain better alignment when sleeping too. Just be aware of posture after waking up as well since it’s easy to slouch first thing in the morning.
Change Your Arm Position
Sleeping with the arm positioned awkwardly often leads to shoulder discomfort. Avoid having the arm pinned or reaching overhead since this overstretches the shoulder. Try changing your arm placement to take pressure off the shoulder joint.
Rest the arm on a pillow or rolled up towel beside the body. Use a body pillow for side sleeping to hug which reduces shoulder abduction. Some people find resting the hand on the hip or belly more comfortable. Just avoid having the arm hang down off the side of the bed which strains the shoulder.
Sleeping with the arms at your side with palms facing up reduces pressure points on the shoulder. If side sleeping, draw the knees up closer toward the chest so you don’t have to reach the arm out. Adjusting arm height and placement can make a big difference in preventing shoulder pain.
Consider Shoulder Supports and Night Braces
For chronic shoulder pain from sleeping, using a support device may help realign the shoulders at night. Shoulder braces are designed to improve alignment and reduce subluxation. The rigid supports hold the shoulders back to encourage a neutral posture. They also limit mobility which prevents you from rolling into strained positions during sleep.
Some night braces wrap around the shoulders and arms kind of like a backpack. Others have rigid supports that slide into pockets on a close-fitting shirt. Cervical collars also hold the neck upright and can indirectly improve shoulder positioning. Consult your doctor though before using any restrictive bracing long-term which could lead to muscle atrophy over time.
Apply Heat and Cold Therapy
Alternating cold and heat therapy can alleviate shoulder pain from sleeping to provide immediate relief. Cold packs reduce inflammation while heat packs loosen up tight, painful muscles. This combo approach targets muscular issues and joint problems to address discomfort.
Use cold packs on inflamed, sore shoulders to numb pain and constrict blood vessels. Apply for the first 24 to 48 hours after noticing pain. Use heat packs after to boost blood flow and relax muscles. Alternate between heat and ice a few times each day for 15 minutes at a time. Consistent application of hot/cold therapy promotes healing.
Adjusting your sleep approach is the key to preventing and eliminating shoulder pain from sleeping. Focus on choosing optimal sleep positions, having the right pillow and mattress, stretching regularly, and using supports as needed. Implementing healthy sleep habits will help you wake up feeling refreshed and pain-free.