What Causes Pain When Sleeping?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 02 January 2019
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A person may experience pain when sleeping for a variety of reasons, including sleeping on a mattress that does not provide proper support or using a pillow that doesn't support the head and neck properly. Side sleepers may also experience shoulder or arm pain without proper support and spine alignment. In some cases, medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and shoulder tendinitis also may cause pain when sleeping.

When an individual feels stiffness or joint pain while sleeping or upon awakening in the morning, he might not associate this with his mattress or pillow. In many cases, however, a mattress that sags or a pillow that doesn't provide proper support can cause aches and pains. While there are other causes of pain when sleeping, replacing a worn or defective mattress or pillow could help.

Another common cause of pain while sleeping is fibromyalgia. This condition may cause widespread muscoloskeletal pain, especially when sleeping in a position that forces pressure on a particularly sensitive area of the body. Arthritis may also cause pain when sleeping, due to the joints becoming stiff during extended periods of inactivity.

A sinus headache may cause pain when sleeping. For many individuals, sinus pressure increases while lying down. Some physicians recommend sleeping with the head slightly elevated to alleviate the pressure. For many individuals, tension headaches may also cause pain while sleeping.


Some children suffer from occasional ear infections, which can cause pain during sleep. An earache may become worse when lying down, as fluid and pressure increases. Again, a way to avoid this is by raising the head slightly with an additional pillow.

For many individuals, a toothache can cause intense pain when sleeping. While lying down, blood flows more freely to the head, resulting in throbbing pain in the tooth or gum area. In most cases, seeing a dentist is not possible during the late night hours, and some people find relief by propping pillows up.

Many people suffer from leg cramps while sleeping. The nocturnal pain is often felt in the calf area or lower part of the leg. The muscle spasms and pain may cause some individuals to awaken from a deep sleep. In some cases, dehydration or potassium deficiency may cause leg cramps or nighttime pain. In some cases, heat or massage may relieve the painful symptoms.

During pregnancy, some women may experience hip or back pain when sleeping. This is due to uneven weight distribution, primarily on the hips, or lower back. Many women find comfort and relief by using a body pillow during their pregnancy.


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Post 1

If I'm sleeping deeply and not moving much for a while, sometimes, my knee joints will stiffen because they've been in the same position for too long. Also, I'll sleep too long on one side and when I turn over, my ear is asleep from the pillow pressure. The "waking up" process where the blood flow returns is sometimes extremely painful and will wake me out of a sound sleep.

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