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Many distractions can get in the way of you getting your recommended 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but one of the most disruptive is physical discomfort. From feeling too hot to too cold, not enough neck support to too much, it’s essential for both your body and mind to feel at ease when it’s time to hit the hay.

One of the most common issues struggling sleepers face is shoulder pain at night. If you’ve dealt with this uncomfortable phenomenon before, you might have found yourself up late and searching the web for solutions, “how to stop shoulder pain when I sleep,” or “why do I have shoulder pain from sleep?”

In this post, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the most common causes that may be contributing to your night time shoulder pain, and we’ll also share some tips to help you ease symptoms and prevent pain. Use the links below to navigate to the section that best answers your query, or read through for a comprehensive overview of the topic.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain at Night

To find the most effective solution to alleviate your shoulder pain from sleeping, it’s a good idea to start with some of the root causes you may be facing.

According to the Cleveland Health Clinic, some of the most common causes of shoulder pain when you sleep, and in general, are:

  • Rotator Cuff Injuries: Overuse of the rotator cuff can contribute to issues such as tendonitis, strains, and partial or complete tears of the tendons.
  • Rotator Cuff Tears: Tears can happen as a result of a single event, like falling onto your outstretched arm, or over time with a repeated motion.
  • Osteoarthritis: When cartilage (the material that cushions the ends of your bones) degrades over time, causing stiffness and pain.

Why does shoulder pain happen at night?

You’ll notice that the rotator cuff is a common denominator when it comes to experiencing shoulder pain, but what exactly does the rotator cuff do, and why is it put under so much pressure at night? explains, “The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint, allowing the shoulder to move and keeping it stable.” When these muscles are overused or injured, they can become inflamed and result in greater issues such as tendonitis, which can cause shoulder pain at night, throughout the day, or both.

Rotator cuff tendonitis can also happen when your arm is in the same position for long periods of time, like when you’re working at a computer or when your arms fall asleep at night from side-sleeping. Additionally, tendonitis can occur with poor posture, sports-related use, aging, and with rotator cuff tears.

Rotator cuff tendonitis, along with other shoulder disorders, are among the most common causes of shoulder pain at night. Depending on the severity and duration of your symptoms, you may want to contact your physician for additional help, more on that in a moment. In the meantime, there are several things you can do, like stretching and switching sleeping positions, to help minimize shoulder pain when you sleep.

How to Address & Prevent Nighttime Shoulder Pain

Now that you may have an idea of what could be causing your shoulder pain at night, let’s go over a few things you can do to find some relief.

Switch up your sleeping position

Side-sleeper shoulder pain is quite common. As we mentioned, sleeping on the same side each night can cause irritation to your rotator cuff and result in discomfort while you sleep. One thing you can do to take pressure off of the affected shoulder is to swap sides. This will give your hurt shoulder a break to recover, while the opposite can take a turn supporting your body while you sleep.

Another sleeping position that can help is resting on your back to allow your body to distribute its weight more evenly, instead of letting one shoulder take on all the heat.

If you’re a steadfast side-sleeper, check out our Shoulder Relief System. This supportive 3-component sleep system can help you find the perfect position to combat nighttime shoulder pain by providing a convenient pillow with an arm hole for reducing shoulder pressure. With a gradual incline and symmetrical design that eliminates pressure, you can continue to sleep on your side, without the disruption of a sore shoulder.

Exercise your shoulders

If you’re dealing with shoulder pain and discomfort on a regular basis, it may benefit you to work on strengthening the muscles and tendons in your shoulders. Here are a few basic strengthening and stretching exercises that may help:

Range of Motion

Stand up and lean forward with a straight back, resting one arm on a steady surface, such as a table or dresser. Let your affected arm dangle down toward the floor, drawing circles in the air. Start the exercise by doing small circles, then progress to larger circles. Repeat 5-10 times throughout the day. Note:If this causes pain, take a break.

Rotator cuff strengthening

For this exercise, you’ll need a resistance band to help gently strengthen your rotator cuff. Start by looping your band around the knob of a closed door. Then use the hand that is closest to the door, and grab the other end of the band. With your elbow at a 90-degree angle, pull the band across your stomach. Repeat 10 times and switch sides; increase repetitions as your shoulder pain lessens.

Upper extremity strengthening

For this more advanced exercise, you’ll need a light weight. Lie on your right side, then with your weight in your left hand, raise your forearm, keeping your elbow near your side. Repeat according to your comfort level and switch sides.

Apply heat and ice

One of the most common ways to address pain is by applying heat and/or ice to the affected areas, depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing. Here are some helpful tips for using heat and ice to help deal with pain:

  • For arthritis, moist heat can be used to help ease stiff joints and relax muscles.
  • For strains, ice can help reduce inflammation and numb pain, while heat can ease stiffness after inflammation has gone down.
  • For tendonitis, ice can reduce inflammation and numb pain.

Consider anti-inflammatory medications

If your doctor recommends them, Harvard Health says you can also use anti-inflammatory medications to deal with shoulder pain. Common over-the-counter options include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) 
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

When to See a Doctor

As you consider these tips, you’ll of course want to tune into how your body responds to them. If you’re experiencing additional pain, limited movement, regularly wake up from shoulder pain at night, or aren’t having much success with an arthritis pillow, you may want to consult your physician. Sometimes long term or aggressive shoulder injuries can require surgical repair or other specialized treatments. If shoulder surgery is recommended, a post-surgery recovery pillow may help reduce discomfort during your recover period.

To help you and your doctor find the most effective treatment for your issues, start by asking your doctor these questions:

  • “What is causing my shoulder pain?”
  • “Could my sleeping position be causing shoulder pain at night?”
  • “Are there certain activities I should avoid?”
  • “How long will it take for my shoulder to heal?”
  • “What preventative measures can I take to protect my shoulder?”
  • “Will my shoulder heal completely?”

  • Wrapping Up - Dealing With Shoulder Pain When You Sleep

    If you’re experiencing shoulder pain when you sleep, there are several ways you can find relief, including the use of our Shoulder Relief System. This therapeutic sleep system helps you find a comfortable position for your shoulders and ultimately, allows you to comfortably catch that high-quality snooze you so deserve. 

    Some of the key benefits of the Shoulder Relief System include:

    • Pressure relief to allow for comfortable side-sleeping without irritating your shoulders.
    • Gradual incline to keep your body supported.
    • Symmetrical design that makes switching sides seamless.
    • Flexible arm positions help you find the right position for a great night’s sleep.

    Let’s review some of the ways to stop shoulder pain at night:

    • Change positions: Shoulder pain from side-sleeping is pretty common, so it may be worth switching sides or trying to sleep on your back to alleviate discomfort. (Use our Shoulder Relief System to help).
    • Exercise and strengthen shoulders: Pending your doctor’s recommendations, you can practice gentle exercises to boost strength and reduce shoulder pain at night.
    • Apply heat and ice: Depending on the root cause of the issue, you can use heat and/or ice to minimize related symptoms.
    • Consider anti-inflammatory medications: With your doctor’s approval, you may consider using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to minimize discomfort.

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    By implementing these tips and listening to your body—and your physician— you can find effective ways to deal with your shoulder pain from sleeping and get back to high-quality zzz’s in no time.