Shoulder Pain From Sleeping On Side
If you’ve been sleeping on your back for years, you may be surprised at how much easier it feels to fall asleep when you put your head down in a pillow. Or maybe that’s just because you have such an uncomfortable mattress that you can’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep — even if you lie on your stomach or side. In any case, one way to alleviate discomfort from sleeping on your back is to switch sides each night. This simple change could make a big difference in comfort and ease of falling asleep.
Sleeping on your back puts most of your upper-body weight on your shoulder joints, especially if you sleep with your hands under your chest and elbows tucked close to your rib cage. If you sleep on your stomach, the muscles that lift your torso are relaxed, but they still must bear some of this weight. And since the weight isn’t distributed evenly across both shoulders, stress sometimes builds up in your rotator cuffs, ligaments and tendons. These structures help keep your shoulders where they belong – next to your spine. When these areas become stressed, as happens when you sleep on your back, inflammation and pain can occur. The same goes for your neck, which also has fewer muscle groups than other parts of your body and thus bears more of your weight.
One reason why your shoulders might hurt while you sleep is that they aren’t properly positioned. Your shoulders should always face forward; never outward. Once your arms are outstretched, your shoulders will naturally tilt backward as they rest against your ribs. If you sleep on your back, then your shoulders will tilt downward toward your hips. Not only does this position cause unnecessary strain on your shoulder joints, it also makes breathing difficult by forcing your diaphragm further upward into your chest cavity.
The best way to avoid shoulder pain during sleep is to sleep on your side instead of lying on your back. There are several different ways to sleep on your side. Some people roll onto their side after waking up and prop themselves upright using pillows. Others use specially designed mattresses that adjust to allow them to sleep on their side without rolling over. Still others choose to sleep on their backs with their heads propped up by thick foam wedges (or similar devices). Whichever method you choose, the idea is to maintain a 90 degree angle between your arm and body. You want to maintain this angle so that your arm falls along the length of your torso rather than pointing straight ahead.
If you do decide to sleep on your back, don’t worry about “sleeping” sideways. While sleeping on your back means curling your entire body around a single point, there’s no need to curl your whole body in order to sleep comfortably on your side. Just bend your knees slightly and extend your legs straight out. Most people who sleep on their backs like to place their feet flat on the floor. However, placing your feet too close together can actually increase the amount of pressure on your shoulders by pushing your pelvis forward. Instead, let your feet spread apart a few inches. This prevents your pelvis from doing its job of distributing your weight evenly throughout your lower body. It also gives you room to stretch out laterally without touching anything.
Most people prefer sleeping on their right side because it relieves the tension on their left shoulder. But if you suffer from shoulder pain, sleeping on the opposite side may relieve symptoms better. For example, if you wake up stiff and sore in the morning, then you should sleep on your right side to reduce the strain on your left shoulder. Likewise, if you experience shoulder pain on your left side, then you’ll feel better on your right side. Try experimenting with side sleeping to see what works best for you.
It’s important not to sleep on your back for long periods of time. Sleep experts recommend taking short naps on your side every day, particularly if you have trouble getting to sleep [sources: Mayo Clinic Staff]. During these times, try resting your head on a soft surface — not directly on the ground or bed. Also, don’t sleep on your stomach for longer than 30 minutes. After prolonged exposure, sleeping on your stomach can irritate your abdominal muscles, leading to cramps and insomnia.
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