Why Do I Wake Up With My Arms Above My Head & How to Avoid It?

Have you ever woken up with your arms above your head, even though you know you didn’t position them that way on purpose? Although it might seem strange, this position is actually quite common, especially for those with breathing issues.

In the sections that follow, I’ll tell you all there is to know about sleeping and waking with your arms over your head and what it means for your body and sleep quality. Read on!

Sleeping in “Starfish” Position: Why It Happens

This sleeping position has a pretty self-explanatory name. Your body resembles a starfish, with your arms placed above your head in different positions and angles. Meanwhile, your legs are usually spread wide to ensure you’re comfortable and stable as you sleep.

It’s a natural way of opening up your airway. In other words, you’ll have an easier time breathing, and you’ll be able to take in more air than in most other positions.

So, if you constantly wake up with your arms over your head, you might have breathing issues you aren’t aware of. A good call is to talk to your doctor and do a checkup even if you feel fine.

Besides difficulties breathing, this position can also have a much more practical explanation. Namely, a lot of people sleep in it because they don’t have enough space in bed to sleep comfortably in any other pose.

This usually occurs if you and your partner sleep in a smaller bed. In addition, it can also happen if you sleep alone and the bed is too narrow for your body.

Are There Any Benefits to This Sleeping Position?

As already mentioned, the starfish opens up your airway while you sleep. Consequently, it’s an excellent position if you have issues with your lungs or any airway obstructions.

Moreover, it can also help you with acid reflux and digestion in general. So, try it out if you have had a hearty dinner and are having trouble falling asleep as your body digests it.

Lastly, this position is also beneficial for relieving shoulder pain, especially if it stems from between the shoulder blades. Still, as I’ll mention below, the starfish generally isn’t the best option in terms of ergonomics and comfort. Therefore, if you have shoulder pain, try looking into other remedies instead.

Can Sleeping This Way Be Bad for You?

Although there are several benefits of the starfish sleeping position, it can also have negative effects as well. Here are some of the issues it can lead to.


For starters, this position facilitates snoring. Since you’ll be taking in more air and sleeping on your back, the snoring could be even louder and more aggressive than usual. So, if you sleep with a partner or have thin walls, your snoring will definitely be a problem.

Sleep Apnea

Another potential issue that is related to the starfish position is sleep apnea — a disorder that causes difficulties breathing during sleep. Some of the symptoms include gasping for air during sleep, not being able to breathe for up to half a minute at a time, as well as loud snoring.

It is this last symptom that links this condition with sleeping with your arms above your head. Since it causes loud snoring, it can lead to sleep apnea if you do not correct it with time.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause a large number of health problems. The most severe ones include:

  • Heart attack
  • Brain damage due to lack of oxygen
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Nerve damage

Therefore, preventing sleep apnea is a must for maintaining your health. The easiest way to do so is to avoid sleeping on your back, which means that the starfish is off-limits if you already have snoring problems.

Discomfort and Back Pain

As I mentioned above, the starfish may help alleviate shoulder pain. However, it can also cause pain and discomfort in your lower back, arms, legs, and hips. Of course, these issues aren’t guaranteed and may not happen depending on your usual sleeping habits and overall health.

However, if you notice that you are in more pain on the days after you wake with arms above your head, it’s safe to assume that your body doesn’t enjoy this position. In that case, it is best to look for ways to train your body to avoid the starfish altogether.

I’ll teach you how below.

Ways to Avoid Sleeping With Your Arms Above Your Head

Sleep on Your Side

First and foremost, you should try sleeping on your side more. This position will naturally prevent you from lifting both of your arms as you sleep, and you’ll snore less.

Of course, changing your sleeping habits this way is often easier said than done. If you’re used to sleeping on your back, it will take a lot of practice and time to learn otherwise.

If you sleep with a partner, they can help keep you in check throughout the night. When they feel you shift onto your back, they can wake you and get you to move again.

And in case you sleep alone, you could use some pillows to prevent yourself from turning. Just stack them up behind your back, and they should keep you on your side all night.

If you don’t have pillows, you can also use a pile of blankets, a bunch of plushies, or anything else that you can think of. As long as it will help fill out your bed and keep you on your side, you can use it.

Get a Bigger Bed

Like I mentioned already, you might be lifting your hands up if you don’t have enough space while sleeping. That can happen if you have a smaller or narrower bed or if you sleep with someone bigger than you.

Either way, getting a bigger bed might help resolve the issue. You’ll have more space to move around and be comfortable, and the same will be true for your partner (if you have one).

While you’re at it, it’s also smart to get a memory foam mattress. Its softness will help you feel more comfortable as you sleep, which might prevent you from lifting your arms. That’s especially the case if you lift them to alleviate shoulder pain.

Buy a Wedge Pillow

Although it might look uncomfortable and strange, sleeping on a wedge pillow (like this one from Kӧlbs) can vastly improve your quality of life. The unique angle and slope will ensure you can breathe without any obstructions, which will eliminate the need to go full on starfish.

Furthermore, this type of pillow is excellent for treating acid reflux and heartburn. Also, it can help reduce snoring and back pain, which is a big plus no matter the position you usually sleep in.

The pillows come in a wide range of sizes and angles, so you can choose what suits you most. Plus, you can find countless styles, so it will fit right into your bedroom no matter what vibe you need.

To Sum Up

If you wake up with your arms above your head — also known as the starfish position — you probably have trouble breathing during the night. Other possible explanations include digestion problems, shoulder pain, and a lack of space.

Though this position can seem comfortable, it is best to avoid it. Namely, it can lead to loud snoring, sleep apnea, back pain, headaches, and overall sleep discomfort.

Great options for breaking the habit of sleeping in the starfish position include turning on your side, buying a bigger bed, and getting a wedge pillow. Whichever option you pick, remember to be patient and give yourself enough time to adapt. With time and effort, you’ll be sleeping soundly and comfortably every night!

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