Is Sleeping With Your Arms Above Your Head Good for You?

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Do you ever wake up and discover your arms up around your pillow or headboard? You may not have intentionally fallen asleep in that position, but somehow gravitate toward it during the night.

Sleeping with your arms reached up above your head is a common position many people find comfortable. But is it actually good for you? Does this unorthodox sleeping posture provide benefits or risks to be aware of?

While elevating your arms above your head while sleeping might feel natural, experts are divided on whether it’s truly advantageous. Proponents highlight upsides like reduced shoulder pain and improved circulation. Critics counter that potential downsides like strained muscles and nerve issues make it better to keep arms down.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at both sides of the debate. We’ll explore the key pros and cons of sleeping with arms overhead to help you decide if it could be right for you. You’ll also find tips to make this sleep position more comfortable.

Let’s examine why so many naturally gravitate toward sleeping with their arms raised and how to know if it could lead to healthier, higher-quality rest.

Potential Benefits of Sleeping With Arms Above Your Head

Here are some of the possible perks and advantages that sleeping with arms overhead may provide:

Reduced Shoulder Pain

Letting your arms extend above your head allows shoulder muscles and joints to gently lengthen and relax through the night. This can alleviate pain and stiffness.

Increased Range of Motion

The extended arm position utilizes your full range of overhead shoulder motion. Maintaining flexibility and mobility reduces injury risk.

Enhanced Circulation

Elevating your arms opens the area around your armpit, promoting blood flow. This benefits circulation through the shoulders, chest, and upper back.

Fewer Sleep Disturbances

Arm numbness from sleeping on your side, which can wake you up, may be less likely when arms are extended upward unrestricted.

Deeper Sleep

The weighted feeling of resting arms overhead activates pressure points connected to the nervous system, allowing deeper sleep.

Easier Breathing

Opening the chest and shoulder area by raising arms up makes breathing easier for conditions like sleep apnea.

There are clearly some potential perks to letting your arms drift up over your pillow or headboard while you sleep if it feels natural and comfortable. Next, let’s examine the possible disadvantages.

Potential Risks of Sleeping With Arms Above Your Head

Despite the possible benefits, there are some cautionary risks to keep in mind with this sleep position:

Numbness or Tingling

Elevating your arms for long periods can compress nerves and lead to troubling arm and hand numbness or tingling.

Stiffness or Pain

Maintaining your arms overhead through the night can sometimes result in pain or stiffness in the upper back, shoulders, or neck.

Joint Strain

The overhead position hyperextends the arm joints. This could worsen pain if you already have injured rotator cuffs or arthritis.

Snoring or Sleep Apnea

Reaching arms back opens airways, but in some people may exacerbate snoring or sleep apnea issues.

Sleep Disturbances

Discomfort from numb, stiff arms could disrupt your sleep as much as side sleeping arm numbness.

Shoulder Impingement

Irritation of the rotator cuff tendons could result from frequent overhead arm positioning through the night.

There are clearly some potential drawbacks to sleeping with your arms repeatedly lifted overhead. Proper precautions are needed to minimize these risks.

Tips for Sleeping Comfortably With Arms Above Your Head

If you want to sleep with arms raised but avoid potential downsides, these tips can help:

Use a Pillow Under Arms

Placing a pillow under your elbows reduces strain when holding arms overhead through the night.

Choose a Soft Mattress

A firm mattress won’t conform to elevated arms. Pick one with more give to cradle shoulders and arms.

Stretch First

Do some light shoulder rolls and arm circles before bed to enhance mobility.

Switch Sides

Alternate which arm is extended up to avoid overuse on one shoulder.

Monitor for Numbness

If arms regularly go numb, reconsider the overhead position.

Avoid Stomach Sleeping

Extending arms overhead works best on your back or side, not stomach.

See a Physical Therapist

Get personalized guidance on improving mobility and arm positioning.

With the right adjustments and vigilance of any negative effects, sleeping with arms overhead may be possible more comfortably.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of This Sleep Position

So, on balance, is sleeping with your arms raised above your head advisable or not? As with most health topics, there are merits to both perspectives:


For those who awaken in this position without pain or numbness, the benefits like reduced shoulder tension, better circulation, and easier breathing make it an acceptable posture. It utilizes the full overhead range of motion which remains important as we age. Letting arms drift upward feels natural, and avoids sleep-disrupting arm numbness.


The downward pull of gravity on unsupported arms all night has risks, especially for those with existing joint conditions or nerve issues. Potential soreness, numbness, and nerve compression may actually worsen sleep. Extended overhead positioning could also gradually worsen shoulder problems like impingement.

The Verdict?

There are pros and cons to sleeping with arms overhead. If you already wake up this way and have normal range of motion without discomfort, the benefits likely outweigh any risks. But proceed cautiously and stop if numbness, nerve irritation, or shoulder pain develop which could signal harm.

Determine the Best Sleeping Position for You

Rather than decide definitely for or against sleeping with overhead arm positions, the wisest approach is to experiment.

Try alternating nights extended arms up versus down. Note if one posture gives you more restful sleep. Also monitor for any increased morning stiffness or soreness.

Keep arms lowered if it resolves symptoms. But if you see no adverse effects and sleep just as soundly with arms up, then enjoy the comfort and freedom this position provides.

The ideal sleep posture really comes down to your individual body and preferences. Don’t assume overhead arm positions are universally right or wrong. Remain alert to your own responses.

Other options to consider:

  • Side sleeping with a pillow between your arms
  • Back sleeping with arms resting on stomach
  • Partial arm elevation using a pillow for support

Evaluate alternate positions, but don’t hesitate to sleep with arms overhead if it feels natural and causes no negative impacts for your body.

Achieve Quality Sleep in the Position That Works Best For You

The appeal of sleeping with arms extended overhead is that this position frees the shoulders and enhances mobility. However, night after night strain in certain body types could potentially result in adverse effects.

Carefully monitor how you feel upon waking after a night with arms up. Notice if it provides comfortable rest versus pain or numbness that interferes with sleep quality. This will reveal whether it’s an optimal posture for you.

Remain flexible and willing to adjust positions as needed. Your preferences may change over time as body responses shift. The right sleep position for you today may differ from tomorrow.

Don’t become overly dogmatic about assuming one posture is always best or worst. Focus on what provides a pain-free night’s sleep so you can wake up refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

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