Teach me how to sleep comfortably!
May 7, 2013 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I slept wrong on my arm and it hurts. The problem is, I do this every night.

About a month ago, I slept on my left arm in such a way that it was sore in the morning. I figured it was no big deal; we've all done it, I figured that a day later (as is usually the case) it'd be fine. But here we are, a month later, and every night I seem to end up sleeping in a position that repeats the arm strain, so the pain that should have gone away a month ago is still there.

I tend to sleep on my left side, with my left arm under my pillow, but I'm also a fairly mobile sleeper - I have tried (and succeeded) to fall asleep on my back, or on my right side, but no matter what happens, at some point in the night I invariably end up sleeping on my left side, with my arm under my pillow, so when I wake up the first thing I notice is how tight and sore my arm is. The tightness/soreness doesn't really inhibit me from doing anything, but it's incredibly annoying.

Is there any way to train myself to sleep differently, or to stop myself rolling over to my left? I'm really getting annoyed with my sore left arm, but I have no idea how to stop myself from ending up sleeping in a position that continually stresses my left arm.
posted by pdb to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not your doctor, a doctor, or your pillow. But I do this myself, and have ended up with a rotator cuff issue that I've actually been to physical therapy for. The PT advised that sleeping like that is a prime culprit of these strains. (And surely is, in my case--I have never played a sport with a lot of throwing or swinging or whatever, so I can't associate the injury with anything else.)

The strain can actually be pretty painful--opening doors can be a real bear, and fighting a real bear is exceedingly difficult. I have found that with a lot of care I can avoid sleeping like this, but it is definitely a conscious decision I have to make, and it takes effort to reorient yourself during the night.

Really--do try to address this before it gets to the painful to open doors stage, which totally sucked. Exercises can help.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:37 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get one of those v-shaped pillows and use it at a right angle - so one part of it is supporting your head and neck and the other part of the V is down your back (like this). If you lie on your right side it should stop you from rolling over to your left.
posted by essexjan at 1:41 PM on May 7, 2013

What I did to teach myself to sleep on my back was to arrange my pillows in a particular way. I would put a feather pillow on either side of my head at an angle so that there was an empty "V" in the center (does that make sense?), and then lay a down pillow over the top. My head would sink into the down over the space and it would be somewhat uncomfortable to turn to the side.

I no longer do this but I still sleep on my back at least 70 percent of the time. I currently use tempur pedic pillows, which are the only thing that cured a pinched nerve in my neck that would flare up from time to time and would be so painful that I would sometimes be in tears at my desk. Even when I sleep on my side now, I don't put my arm under my head or my pillow, and I think it's because the pillows do such a perfect job of holding my head at the right angle.
posted by janey47 at 1:42 PM on May 7, 2013

If you're going to sidesleep (and I can't sleep any other way, so I hear you), you need to make sure that pillows are holding your neck up in a relative straight line from your spine. As in, you can't sleep on your side with your spine 5" off the mattress and then sleep on a pillow that only supports it to 3". Otherwise, you're using your arm to hold your head up, leveraging shoulder and/or elbow to do it. Whatever it takes: more pillows, special pillows, cervical-support add-ons, get your neck straight.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:55 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Previously (good comment about learning to sleep on your back from Humanzee)
Previously (mostly just confirmation that sleeping on your side can be bad; a good comment by vytae)

This question comes up every so often on AskMe, so poking around the archives might be helpful too.
posted by purpleclover at 2:24 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mechanical solution: Secure a tennis ball to your arm (bandage, not tape) to the part that you normally rest against.

I had a friend who snored when she slept on her back, so she sewed a tennis ball to the back of her nightgown.
posted by kamikazegopher at 5:50 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Same problem. Solved it by getting a smaller pillow (an IKEA 365 FAST pillow, recommended in a thread on metafilter) and putting a regular sized pillow overtop. Your arm fits into the gap on either side, under the top pillow.
The problem with 2 pillows is that your neck can get out of alignment and you trade one physical problem for another. So the top pillow is a thinner or mushier one. The IKEA pillow is firm and contoured on both top and bottom to different thicknesses, so you can fiddle with the placement.
Good luck.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:30 AM on May 8, 2013

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