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Should Your Shoulders be on the Pillow When Sleeping?


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Sleeping is our body’s way of relaxing our muscles and recovering from the course of the day. This is why it’s so important to keep a good sleeping position.

The pillow is designed to support our head and neck as we sleep, with the aim to align our spine, which helps to prevent pain and tension when we awake in the morning. Adding a pillow adds to the comfort our body needs as it recovers.

But one question that I see asked a lot is whether or not our shoulders should be on the pillow when we’re sleeping? We should avoid having our shoulders on the pillow when we’re sleeping. Having our shoulders on the pillow can impede the natural curvature of the spine, which can result in sciatica and other forms of discomfort in the morning.

Sadly, many of us do awake to shoulder pain, and our sleep positions may have something to do that.

Why We Should Avoid Having Our Shoulders on The Pillow When Sleeping

Choosing to lay our shoulders on the pillow, which could dis-align our recommended sleep position could bring about some physical unrest in our upper body and back. The conditions worsen if we couple it by not sleeping in an appropriate sleeping position. Most of us are side sleepers, but sleeping on our back is the most recommended way to sleep.

We’ll look at how we should be sleeping with a pillow in either one of these positions. It is not recommended to sleep on the stomach. We’ll also look at the benefit of sleeping without a pillow. Lastly, we’ll look at best ways to sleep in the event we do have shoulder pain.

Back Sleeper

  • Push pillow down next to shoulders
  • Do not lay shoulders on pillow
  • Level head when its on the pillow
  • Ears should be parallel with shoulders
  • Chin should be in neutral position

Slide Sleeper

  • Chin should be in neutral position
  • Don’t use shoulder as a pillow
  • Lay head on pillow
  • Pull pillow down to shoulder

Sleeping Without a Pillow

While most of us sleep with at least one pillow, it may be best to not sleep with a pillow at all. When we’re walking upright, our head and neck are in vertical alignment at the top of the spine. When we lay our vertical bodies down flat, it would make sense that we would be most aligned pillow-free.

Not sleeping with a pillow will remove the issue of dis-aligning the natural curvature of the spine. Thus, by eliminating the pillow from the equation, we’re guaranteed to avoid neck, shoulder, or back pain.

Other health benefits to not using a pillow when sleeping include:

  • Reduction of acne
  • Prevention of wrinkles
  • Prevention of back and neck pain
  • Straighten and normalize bone structure
  • Avoid stress
  • Prevent inflammation
  • Prevent or reduce depression

Note that these benefits mostly apply to back sleeping. When sleeping on the side, not having a pillow would actually be worse since it will place your neck in a misaligned position.

How To Sleep With Shoulder Pain

Our sleep positions can put pressure on our shoulders over time. Pain is felt near the muscles around the ball-and-socket of our shoulder from strain or damage.

The constant pressure causes the tendons to become inflamed, often called impingement syndrome, or rotatory cuff tendinitis. Some early signs of this inflammation are slight pains and stiffness in the shoulder after waking up.

It’s important to treat these symptoms early, so they will not progress into more serious pain, loss of mobility in the shoulder, and permanent damage to the tendons. Some things to do to reduce the pain are:

  • Sleeping on your back – Whether you have shoulder pain or not, this is the best sleeping position because it’s better for back alignment. This position keeps your spine in its most natural alignment. This position also helps to heal back pain.
  • Relieving the pressure on your shoulder with a pillow – While initially, it is best for your shoulder to not lay on a pillow, once pain does arise, it needs support. Try wrapping a long pillow or using two pillows to add a layer of support beneath your shoulder, and above the shoulder between your head and shoulder. This is used best in a side sleeping position.
  • Avoid sleeping on the arm – Most side sleepers sleep on their arm. Sliding their arms under the pillow can feel really comfortable. However, this position can place excessive pressure on the arm and shoulders. It can also prevent the spine from naturally aligning with the rest of the body.
  • Get Plenty of Rest – Our body depends on sleep to heal. Naturally resting our body is a form of healing for it. A lack of rest can prohibit the natural healing of shoulder pain causing it to last longer. It’s important to keep a regular sleeping schedule, especially when we know our body needs healing. Sometimes it’s hard to lay down to rest. Some things to help in that area right before bedtime include:
    • Going for a short walk
    • Turning off all the lights in the bedroom
    • Taking a warm shower
    • Reading a book
    • Drinking a calming warm/hot drink like tea or hot chocolate

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas and I'm the author and content operator at The Bedding Planet. I've always had a big interest in bedding and more specifically sleep. If I find something that makes me sleep better, whether that's a lifestyle change or a better bedding environment, I'm ready to share it with the world!

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