6 Solutions to Shoulder Pain From Sleeping on Side

December 6, 2023 | Casper Editorial Team

Fact checked by Casper Labs Review In Progress

To avoid shoulder pain while sleeping on your side, try sleeping in a different position with proper pillow support, invest in a quality mattress, maintain good sleep hygiene, stay active with regular stretching, and seek professional help if necessary.


Shoulder pain is a nuisance, but when it keeps you from falling asleep or wakes you up in the middle of the night, it becomes a real issue. Studies suggest that people with shoulder pain have significantly poorer sleep quality than those without. 

Relieving shoulder pain at night isn’t as simple as sleeping on your back, though that is a good place to start. From using the correct pillow and mattress to stretching and staying active during the day, we’re exploring the shoulder pain solutions you need to be able to sleep through the night.

Understanding the Causes of Shoulder Pain From Side Sleeping

Multiple bones, ligaments, and tendons intersect and connect to form the shoulder joint. The shoulder contains a ball and socket joint that facilitates circular movement, making it possible to throw a ball or swim butterfly stroke. Unfortunately, because of this extra mobility, the shoulder is more vulnerable to overuse and injury, causing shoulder or rotator cuff pain.

Without knowing the cause of your shoulder pain, it can be difficult to treat it. Let’s explore some of the most common causes.


Direct pressure on arm nerves

If you’re experiencing pain and numbness in your shoulder while sleeping on your side, you may be suffering from nerve entrapment.

The nerve that controls the shoulder and its surrounding muscles is called the axillary nerve. This nerve can become damaged or entrapped from enduring frequent pressure placed on it, such as from side sleeping. 

Frozen Shoulder

An immobilizing condition that can affect the shoulder is known as adhesive capsulitis, also called frozen shoulder. 

Frozen shoulder is caused by inflammation of the joint due to overuse or injury. Inflammation, along with a decrease in lubricant between the arm bone and socket, will “freeze” the affected shoulder in place, restricting most of its movement. 

This condition also causes muscle spasms, which can act up at night and interrupt sleep.

Shoulder Impingement 

Shoulder impingement is a condition that affects the rotator cuff—a group of muscles that hold your upper arm bone within its socket.

Also known as painful arc syndrome, shoulder impingement can occur when the rotator cuff tendons are weakened by overuse. This condition is characterized by dull rotator cuff pain and difficulty in raising your arm away from your body and above your head. 

Rotator Cuff Injury

As nasty as a torn rotator cuff sounds, many people don’t realize they have a rotator cuff injury until they’re given an ultrasound. Rotator cuff injuries display similar symptoms of shoulder impingement, and most often affect people over 40. 

These injuries can also cause neck pain, as the lack of mobility can make you hunch your shoulders. 

Shoulder Bursitis

Within your shoulder joint, between layers of muscle, is the subacromial bursa, which is a small sac of fluid that is meant to protect your shoulder joint as it moves. If the affected shoulder joint is strained and overused, the bursa can become inflamed and cause pain and immobility.

This condition is also known to have some overlap with shoulder impingement. 

Shoulder Osteoarthritis 

Any joint can develop osteoarthritis; it occurs when the joint shape is changed by thinning cartilage and the formation of osteophytes (small pieces of additional bone) on the joint.

While osteoarthritis is less common in the shoulder, it causes particularly painful symptoms, which can become even more painful when you lie on the afflicted shoulder while sleeping. 

Tips to Prevent Shoulder Pain at Night

For most, shoulder pain can be treated at home without the need to visit a doctor. Here are some helpful tips to start feeling relief at night. 

Train Yourself to Sleep in a Different Position

For the best relief from shoulder pain, it’s recommended that you sleep on your back. For some people, though, the back sleeping position is unnatural. If back sleeping isn’t for you, sleeping on your opposite side can relieve shoulder pain as well. Some tricks for changing your sleep position include:

  • Using pillows or bedding to restrict movement – You’ll have a harder time rolling over in your sleep if there is something physically blocking your movement. 
  • Using memory foam pillows or mattress – Memory foam holds the shape of your head and body more than a regular mattress. It can act almost as a cradle, keeping your body in the correct position and limiting your movement while asleep. 

It’s recommended that back sleepers place a pillow under their knees, and side sleepers place a pillow between their knees, to properly support the body’s alignment while sleeping.

Use Pillows to Support Your Shoulder

Just as pillows can be used to help switch your sleeping position, they can also be a good support for your shoulder:

  • For back sleepers, use one or two pillows to prop your arm up at your side
  • For side sleepers, prop your arm on a pillow in front of your body

Casper has a wide selection of pillows you can use for both head and shoulder support, including the Foam and Essential pillows. 

Invest in a High-Quality Mattress

Mattress quality is key to preventing shoulder pain at night. 

Memory foam mattresses are particularly versatile for both back and side sleepers. For back sleepers, it’ll hold your shape and prevent you from tipping onto your side. And for side sleepers, the extra cushioning will take pressure off your shoulder and hip. 

If you’re looking for a top quality memory foam mattress, our Wave Hybrid Memory Foam Mattress is the one for you. With three layers of Zoned Support, it’ll keep you comfortable and aligned all night.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Learning healthy sleep habits can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. For better sleep hygiene try:

  • Going to bed at a consistent time
  • Avoiding cell phone, TV, or laptop use a couple hours before bed
  • Eliminating light and noise from the bedroom

Maintaining sleep hygiene is particularly important when shoulder pain is distracting you at night. 

Stay Active During the Day

Relieving night-time shoulder pain can happen during the day, too. You might not be up for strenuous activity, but simple things you can do to keep your body feeling good include:

  • Practicing proper posture, especially when sitting at a desk
  • Stretching several times during the day

Stretching is particularly effective in relieving shoulder pain. Many stretches can even be done at your desk. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some easy stretches you can incorporate into your daily routine. 

Stretches to Relieve Shoulder Pain

There are a few shoulder-pain relieving stretches you can employ daily to help increase blood flow to the area and start the healing process.

Doorway Stretch

The only thing you’ll need for this stretch is in its name. 

Stand in a doorway with your arms braced against the wall to either side of you, creating a 90 degree angle at your elbows. Making sure to stay upright, take a step forward and feel the stretch in your shoulders and pectoral muscles.  

Posterior Capsule Stretch

This is the technical name for an arm-to-chest stretch. Simply pull your arm across your chest, and using your opposite hand, hold your arm at the elbow and push it further into the stretch. 

You’ll be able to feel the stretch in the shoulder, shoulder blade, and upper arm. 

Child’s Pose

This low-intensity yoga pose is great for stretching the arms and shoulders. 

Kneel on your hands and knees, then slowly lower your body backward so that your stomach drapes over your thighs while stretching your arms forward. 

For a deeper shoulder stretch, you can “thread the needle” by taking one arm and crossing it in front of your chest and under your opposite arm. Then repeat on the other side. 

Shoulder Rolls

Shoulder rolls are simple yet effective for shoulder pain. Make slow circles with your shoulders, pulling them up towards your ears and back down to stretch the shoulder blades. Remember to reverse direction occasionally. 

When to Seek Professional Help

If you’ve exhausted all your at-home pain relief options and are still feeling shoulder pain, it may be time to consider visiting a doctor or physical therapist. 

Symptoms that warrant particular concern include:

  • Pain that migrates to other parts of the body
  • Pain that’s lasted longer than two weeks
  • Development of a fever

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with a doctor right away. They can help identify the root cause of your pain and suggest treatments that will offer you relief. 

The Role of Physical Therapy in Alleviating Shoulder Pain

Physical therapy is a very effective tool for treating shoulder pain. If the stretches described above weren’t enough to soothe your hurting shoulder, a physical therapist can evaluate the specific nature of your pain and create a unique regiment of exercises, massages, and stretches just for you. 

Explore Casper Sleep Products for Pain-Free Nights

Now that you’re equipped with several effective solutions to shoulder pain from sleeping on side, you can start finding the relief you need today. If you’re ready to invest in a new bed pillow, bed sheets, or mattress, trust Casper for options that have your needs in mind. 

Casper is dedicated to creating sleep products that work. We rigorously test the quality of our mattresses and pillows to ensure that you get the good night’s sleep you deserve. 

Sources: 

  1. Sage Journals. The Correlation Between Shoulder Pathologies and Sleep Disorders. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/03000605221103543 
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Shoulder Pain and Problems. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/shoulder-pain-and-problems 
  3. Mount Sinai. Axillary Nerve Dysfunction. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/axillary-nerve-dysfunction 
  4. Versus Arthritis. Shoulder Pain. https://versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/conditions/shoulder-pain/ 
  5. Wirecutter. Discover Your Ideal Sleeping Position–Then, Train Your Body to Use It. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/your-ideal-sleep-position/ 
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips for Better Sleep. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html