Is shoulder pain interrupting your sleep? Unfortunately, it’s an all too common problem with many potential causes. But shoulder pain at night doesn’t have to keep you from getting the rest you need to recover and thrive. This guide will walk you through the practical steps to relieve nighttime shoulder pain for uninterrupted sleep.
What Causes Shoulder Pain at Night?
The first step toward alleviating shoulder pain is identifying the cause. Below, we've summarized a few common contributors to shoulder discomfort.
Side Sleeping– Most people sleep on their side without issue—it's the most common sleep position among U.S. adults. However, some sleepers experience discomfort in this position because it puts the full weight of their torso on one shoulder and arm. Back sleepers feel some tension around the backs of their shoulders, but this pressure is gentler and dispersed across a larger surface area.
- Stomach Sleeping– Many stomach sleepers don’t know what to do with their arms, so they raise them over their head or bend them under their pillow. Both positions put undue stress on your shoulders. Stomach sleeping can also misalign the spine, causing a host of complaints and discomfort.
- The Wrong Mattress– Your mattress may be too soft or firm for your sleep position and body type. Or, it may not provide enough flexibility and pressure relief, causing tension around critical joints. Later in this article, we discuss the key mattress features that alleviate shoulder pain instead of aggravating it.
- Heightened Awareness– Even if your shoulder pain isn't actually worse at night, it may feel like it. When you lay in bed and try to sleep, you don't have the distractions of waking life. You're more aware of how your body feels, and pain draws your attention.
Any of these factors may agitate your shoulders and increase pain at night. However, the root cause of your nighttime shoulder pain could be an injury or underlying condition. In the next section, we discuss some of the most common medical conditions that contribute to shoulder pain, many of which worsen at night.
Other Causes of Shoulder Pain
Shoulder discomfort during sleep could be a sign of an underlying condition or injury. Be sure to see your doctor if you suspect there’s a larger issue behind it or if the pain is severe, ongoing, or restrictive to your daily activities.
- Arthritis– Arthritis—the swelling, tenderness, and inflammation of joints—often worsens at night. Arthritis in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint is common, causing pain at the top of your shoulder.
- Bursitis– Bursitis is the inflammation of bursa, the fluid-filled sacs that cushion your joints. Shoulder bursitis is the most common form.
- Dislocated Shoulder– Because the shoulder joint is the most flexible in the body, shoulder dislocations are common. Dislocations occur when the upper arm bone pops out of the socket in the shoulder blade.
- Fractures and Breaks– Shoulder pain can result from a fracture or break to any part of your shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone.
- Frozen Shoulder– Adhesive capsulitis or "frozen shoulder" causes stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. It results from a lack of movement and thickening connective tissue around the joint.
- Pinched Nerves– A pinched nerve in your shoulder can cause numbness or pain.
- Tendinitis– Overuse or injury can cause shoulder tendinitis, the inflammation and swelling of the connective tissue.
- Torn Rotator Cuff– A torn rotator cuff refers to a tear in the tendons covering your humorous (upper arm bone) and attaching it to the shoulder blade. A torn rotator cuff can be an acute injury or the result of overuse and gradual degeneration.
What Is the Best Mattress for Shoulder Pain?
If you suspect your mattress is the cause or contributes to shoulder pain, it may be time for a replacement. Fortunately, plenty of modern mattresses are made to relieve pain around sensitive joints, including your shoulders. What should sleepers with shoulder pain look for in a mattress? The most critical factors are pressure relief and finding the right firmness level.
If your mattress is too soft, it will sink too deep around your shoulders and other heavy joints, which restricts movement and pulls your spine out of alignment. If your mattress is too firm, it won’t contour to your shoulders and cushion this sensitive joint. For maximum comfort and support, sleepers need to find the mattress firmness level that’s just right for their unique sleep needs.
How do you know what firmness level you need? It depends on your sleep position and weight. Our Mattress Firmness Guide can help you find your perfect fit. If you have shoulder pain, err toward the softer side of the recommended firmness range—you'll want extra contouring to cushion and soothe your shoulders.
That said, proper spinal alignment is still the top priority. For most side sleepers, that means a mattress in the medium-soft to medium range. For back sleepers, the ideal fit is right in the middle with a medium-firmness mattress. Stomach sleepers need the firmest models, but we generally discourage sleeping on your stomach if you have shoulder or back pain.
Sleepers with shoulder pain (or any other joint pain) need a mattress with superior pressure relief. A pressure-relieving mattress redistributes your body weight, dispersing it across the mattress surface. This lessens the tension around the highest pressure areas, like your shoulders, hips, and back.
Nolah’s AirFoam™ mattresses accomplish this with billions of microscopic air pockets within the contouring foam. With two layers of AirFoam™ and deeply supportive high-resilience foam underneath, the Nolah Signature excels in pressure relief. It’s also the ideal firmness level for side sleepers and lighter back sleepers.
Our latex hybrid Nolah Natural is another pressure-relieving option for sleepers with shoulder pain. It’s a bit firmer than the Signature, making it a good fit for back sleepers, combination sleepers, and heavier side sleepers. Latex is also highly responsive, another important mattress quality for people with shoulder pain.
What Is the Best Pillow for Shoulder Pain?
Your pillow can also contribute to shoulder pain or relief. For maximum comfort, you need a pillow that's the right height for your sleep position to support your head and align your neck. Our Supportive Pillow Guide will help you find your fit.
Sleepers with shoulder pain should also prioritize moldability and pressure relief in their pillows. Contouring foam and latex make great pillow options, responding to your curves and distributing pressure across the entire pillow surface.
Which Nolah pillow should you choose if you have shoulder pain? Try the adaptable Nolah Squishy Pillow. This premium pillow uses shredded foam filling for adaptability and cooling. It also has an adjustable design that lets you remove or add filling to find the perfect height.
More Tips to Prevent Shoulder Pain from Sleeping
What else can you do to combat nighttime shoulder pain? Aside from changing your sleep setup, you can try the following tips. But keep in mind these are just a few potential remedies for everyday shoulder discomfort. It's essential to see your doctor to identify and treat the underlying cause of severe or prolonged shoulder pain.
- Sleep on Your Back– As previously mentioned, back sleeping puts the least amount of pressure on your shoulders. If your shoulders ache, give them a break and sleep on your back.
- Stretch– Get your stretches in first thing in the morning and before bed. For ideas, check out this Medical News Today guide to 10 Stretches for Shoulder Tightness.
- Hot/Cold Treatment– Depending on the type of shoulder pain you have, you may be able to relieve it with hot or cold treatment (or both). In general, cold treatment helps with inflammation and swelling, while hot treatment helps with muscle relaxation and joint lubrication.
Hopefully, these tips will help you ease your shoulder pain and get the sleep you need. Remember, your sleep setup should help, not hinder shoulder pain recovery. If you suspect your sleep position, mattress, or pillow is agitating a health condition or injury, it's time to make a change.