How to Sleep When You're in Pain

On its own, pain is bad enough. But when the world is quiet from distraction and you're trying to sleep, pain seems much worse. In spite of discomfort, you can sleep smarter – in the right positions, with the right pillows and a little natural help – to improve the quality of your zzz's and boost energy during waking hours. 


Bid Your Pain a "Good Night" with These Smart Sleeping Positions

Upper Back Pain

Sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees to encourage natural spinal curvature. Support your neck with a small pillow that does not raise or round your shoulders.  

Lower Back Pain

To take pressure off your upper and lower back and vertebral discs, sleep on your side in the "fetal position" with a pillow between your knees, under your upper arm and possibly a small one supporting your waist. Support your neck (cervical spine) with a small pillow or rolled up towel. 

Neck Pain

Sleeping with the wrong size of pillow can cause neck pain. You want a pillow to support your neck, but not push it up or allow it to sag down. If you sleep on your back, a thin or soft pillow is usually best. If you sleep on your side, you will want thicker, sturdier support. 

Shoulder Pain

The best sleep position for shoulder pain is to sleep on the side opposite the hurting shoulder and follow instructions for the lower back pain relief position. 

To avoid all kinds of pain when sleeping, it's best not to sleep on your stomach. If you must, support your lower abdomen and pelvic bone with a pillow and sleep without a pillow under your head to reduce back strain.


No Fluff Here – When It Comes to Pain, Every Fiber Counts

Pain during and after sleep can have a lot to do with pillows. Body and contour pillows are usually the best pillows for side sleepers. Back sleepers benefit from soft, thin pillows that support the neck and thick, sturdy pillows to support the knees. Each person is different, though; sometimes, back sleepers find it more soothing to forego pillows altogether, opting instead for a rolled up towel or t-shirt under the neck to provide just the right amount of gentle support to the cervical spine.

A Slick Sleeping Solution

Certain essential oils have been shown to encourage sound sleep and help relieve pain. 

Pain relieving oils can be topically administered to tense, sore muscles. Simply massage into skin after diluting a few drops in a carrier oil*, like coconut oil. 

  • Peppermint
  • Black Pepper
  • Clove
  • Clary Sage
  • Juniper
  • Eucalyptus
  • Rosemary

Calming oils can be diffused in your room or administered topically (also using a carrier oil). 

  • Lavender
  • Roman Chamomile
  • Vetiver
  • Sandalwood
  • Cedar Wood
  • Ylang-Ylang
  • Marjoram

[*NOTE:  Some essential oils can irritate or burn the skin if applied without first being diluted. So, usually it's recommended that they be added to a "carrier oil" which can be any other kind of oil.  Coconut oil seems to be the most popular choice.] 


To promote relaxation, you can purchase a diffuser or sprinkle a few drops on a piece of cloth (to place by your pillow), a face towel or a microwaveable rice pack.)

Depending where you hurt at bedtime or upon waking, you can adjust your sleep habits, pillows and try essential oils in order to help yourself get regular relief and, perhaps more importantly, quality sleep.