How to Sleep on Your Side Without Hurting Shoulder in 2024

Sleeping on your side is a popular choice, but sometimes it can lead to shoulder pain. This pain can make a good night’s sleep restless and even impact your day. But don’t worry, there are ways to fix this. Let’s explore how you can comfortably sleep on your side without shoulder pain.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain for Side Sleepers

When discussing the common causes of shoulder pain for side sleepers, it’s important to delve into each cause in detail to understand the underlying mechanisms and symptoms.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain for Side Sleepers

Nerve Compression

When you sleep on your side and rest on your arm, you might squish the nerves in your shoulder. Think of your nerves like electrical wires. When they get pressed, it messes up how they work. This can cause pain, numbness, or a tingly feeling that starts in your shoulder and can go down your arm to your hand. This happens because the pressure on your arm while sleeping can squeeze the nerves too much, leading to these weird feelings.

Muscle Strain

You strain your shoulder muscles when you sleep on your side a lot. This happens because your body weight or a weird sleeping position puts constant pressure on these muscles. The strain doesn’t always show up immediately but can build up over time. You might feel pain, stiffness, or like your muscles are really tired. Your muscles are being pushed too hard and stretched too much, which makes them hurt and feel uncomfortable.

Muscle Strain

Joint Stress

You might stress out your shoulder joint if you always sleep on the same shoulder. Doing this over and over can make problems like arthritis or bursitis worse. Your shoulder joint gets inflamed and painful from all the pressure and stress. This is often more noticeable in the morning after you’ve been sleeping. The joint has been under stress for a long time without a break, which can make any problems you already have even worse. In short, if you’re a side sleeper, you might get shoulder pain because of nerves getting squished, muscles getting strained, and joints getting stressed. All these happen because of the long lasting pressure and awkward positions when you sleep on your side. Each of these causes pain and discomfort in its own way.

How to Sleep on Your Side Without Hurting Shoulder

Check this tutorial On how to sleep with shoulder pain

Medical Conditions to Be Aware Of

When considering shoulder pain, especially in side sleepers, it’s crucial to be aware of various medical conditions contributing to or exacerbating this discomfort. These conditions include:

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff is an important part of your shoulder. It comprises muscles and tendons that keep your shoulder stable and let it move in many ways. You can hurt your rotator cuff differently, from a slight strain to a complete tear. This kind of injury can cause pain, weaken your shoulder, and limit how much you can move. These injuries can happen from doing the same overhead movements, getting older, or a sudden injury.

Shoulder Bursitis

This is about bursitis, which happens when the bursae in your shoulder get inflamed. Bursae are tiny, fluid filled sacs near your shoulder joint. They work like little cushions to cut down on rubbing between your bones and the soft stuff in your joint. When they get swollen and irritated, it can make your shoulder hurt and swell up, making it hard to move. Bursitis can happen if you make the same motion repeatedly if you get hurt or have certain conditions that affect your joints.


Osteoarthritis in the shoulder is a wear-and-tear arthritis you might have heard of. It happens when the cartilage, like a soft cushion at the ends of your bones, wears down over time. When this happens in your shoulder, it can hurt, feel stiff, and make it harder to move your shoulder like you used to. This type of arthritis is more common in older people and can get worse if you repeatedly do the same movements or if you’ve hurt your shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder is when your shoulder gets really stiff and painful. It usually starts slowly and gets better over time. We don’t fully understand why it happens, but it often comes after your shoulder has been still for a while, like after surgery or if you broke your arm. When you don’t move your shoulder much, it can get sticky and stiff inside the joint, making it hard to move.

Where to put arms when sleeping on side

How These Conditions Affect You

All these shoulder problems can change how well your shoulder works and how you feel overall. If you have ongoing shoulder pain, especially if you sleep on your side, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor or another healthcare expert. They can figure out what’s wrong and how to treat it. Getting help early can lead to better results and prevent more severe problems.

Preventative Strategies for Side Sleepers

For side sleepers prone to shoulder pain, adopting certain preventative strategies can significantly help reduce discomfort and enhance sleep quality. These strategies can be broadly categorized into optimal sleeping positions, mattress and bedding choices, and lifestyle adjustments.

Optimal Sleeping Position:

  1. Alternate Sides: Regularly switching the side you sleep on can distribute pressure and prevent overstraining one shoulder. This helps in reducing the risk of muscle imbalance and joint stress.
  2. Pillow Support: Using a pillow specifically designed for side sleepers can maintain spinal alignment and relieve pressure on the shoulder. These pillows provide the right level of support to the neck and shoulders, preventing awkward sleeping positions.
  3. Partial Inclination: Sleeping in a slightly inclined position can alleviate pressure on the shoulder. This can be achieved by using a wedge pillow or an adjustable bed. The slight elevation reduces the direct impact on the shoulder, offering a more comfortable sleep.

Mattress and Bedding Choices:

  1. Mattress Firmness: A medium firm mattress is often ideal for side sleepers. It provides enough support to keep the spine aligned while offering enough cushion to relieve pressure points, including the shoulders.
  2. Pillow Arrangement: Strategically placing pillows can prevent rolling onto the sore shoulder. For instance, placing a pillow in front of or behind you can help maintain a stable sleeping position and reduce the likelihood of turning onto a painful shoulder.

Lifestyle Adjustments:

  1. Daytime Activity: Regular exercises, especially those focused on strengthening shoulder muscles, can enhance shoulder stability and reduce the risk of pain. Incorporating a balanced exercise routine that includes stretching and strengthening is important.
  2. Sleep Hygiene: Creating an optimal environment for sleep is crucial. Ensure your sleeping area is cool, dark, and quiet. This promotes restful sleep, which is essential for muscle recovery and overall health. Good sleep hygiene also includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and avoiding stimulants like caffeine before bedtime.

Implementing these strategies can significantly help in preventing shoulder pain for side sleepers. It’s important to note that individual needs vary, and it is beneficial to experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you. Additionally, if shoulder pain persists, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment.

Exercises and Stretching for Shoulder Health

Exercises and stretching routines are essential for maintaining shoulder health, especially for those who experience discomfort due to their sleeping position or daily activities. Incorporating specific stretches and exercises into your daily routine can help strengthen shoulder muscles, improve flexibility, and reduce the risk of injury. Here’s a breakdown of beneficial exercises and stretches:

Pre-Bedtime Stretches:

Performing gentle stretches before bedtime can help relax the muscles and reduce shoulder tension.

Doorway Stretch:

  • Stand in a doorway.
  • Place your arms on the door frame at shoulder height, elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  • Step forward with one foot, leaning into the stretch.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds.
  • This stretch targets the chest and front shoulder muscles, which can become tight in side sleepers.

Shoulder Rolls:

  • Sit or stand upright.
  • Roll your shoulders slowly in a circular motion.
  • Perform 10 rolls forward and then 10 rolls backward.
  • This helps to relieve tension and improve mobility in the shoulder area.

Gentle Arm Circles:

  • Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height.
  • Make small circles with your arms, gradually increasing the diameter.
  • Do this for about 30 seconds in each direction.
  • This exercise improves blood flow and loosens up the shoulder muscles.

Morning Routines

Starting the day with activities that promote shoulder health can set a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Yoga or Tai Chi:

  • Both practices involve gentle movements and stretches.
  • They help in improving flexibility, balance, and strength.
  • Focus on poses or movements that engage and stretch the shoulder muscles.
  • For example, poses like Cat-Cow, Child’s Pose, and Downward-Facing Dog are beneficial in yoga.
group of people performing Yoga or Tai Chi

Light Resistance Band Exercises:

  • Resistance bands provide a gentle way to strengthen shoulder muscles.
  • Exercises like band pull-aparts or shoulder presses can be effective.
  • Perform these exercises with light resistance to avoid overstraining.
  • Aim for 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions each.

Incorporating these exercises and stretches into your daily routine can significantly contribute to the overall health of your shoulders. Remember to perform these movements gently and within your comfort range, especially if you’re already experiencing shoulder pain. If you have any pre-existing shoulder conditions, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen.

When to Seek Professional Help

It’s important to know when to get help for shoulder pain, especially if you’ve tried to prevent it but it still hurts. Here’s when you should see a doctor:

Ongoing Pain

If your shoulder still hurts even after changing how you sleep, something more serious might be wrong. If pain doesn’t improve with rest, changing your sleeping position, or taking painkillers from the store, a doctor should check it out. This is especially true if the pain keeps going or often wakes you up.

Trouble Moving

If shoulder pain makes it hard to do everyday things, like lifting your arm, reaching up, getting dressed, or combing your hair, you should get medical help. Not being able to move well could mean you have something like a frozen shoulder, serious arthritis, or a problem with your rotator cuff.

Swelling or Odd Shape

Swelling and bruises could be signs of a bad injury like a broken bone, a shoulder out of place, or a big muscle tear. Getting medical help fast is important to stop more harm and start the proper treatment. In short, if you have lasting pain, can’t move your shoulder well, or see swelling or changes in how your shoulder looks, it’s time to see a healthcare pro. A doctor, physical therapist, or bone doctor can determine what’s wrong and start a treatment plan. This helps stop more problems and gets you on the path to feeling better.


  • James Caldwell

    James Caldwell is an expert in sleep science. He has a special sleep science certificate proving he knows all the ins and outs of a good night's rest and how it improves our lives. He has tried out hundreds of sleep products especially pillows & mattresses, so he knows what's good and what's not. If you need advice on what to buy for better Sleep, he's your man. He didn't just wake up knowing about Sleep one day. He studied brain science and how people grow mentally at the University of Puget Sound. That's why he looks at Sleep in a way that covers both the body and the mind.

    Caldwell James