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Having Trouble Sleeping? Here Are the Best Ways to Sleep After Back Surgery

Published July 27, 2017
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff  

Whether you’ve had a spinal fusion or an artificial disc replacement, one of the ongoing factors to consider during your recovery is the best way to sleep after your back surgery. The goal is to ensure that you get the maximum amount of rest required for recovery while avoiding additional pain. If you don’t plan ahead, pain and discomfort will make sleeping a challenge the first few weeks post-surgery. So what is the best way to sleep? Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually sleeping on your back or side.

Sleeping on your back after surgery.

Back Sleeping

This position best supports and protects patients healing from back surgery. Sleeping on your back can reduce pain and diminish the risk of complications. At bedtime, lie on your back and elevate your knees with a pillow. This supports the cervical and thoracic spine which can relieve pressure and pain from your back. Be sure to sleep with your arms down at your sides. Sleeping with your arms under the neck can add pressure on your shoulders and neck, which can increase pain and make your sleep uncomfortable.

Proper posture when sleeping on your side.

Side Sleeping

Sleeping on your side is also one of your best options. In fact, it’s the most popular position for most people, according to a sleep survey. This position can provide comfort and a good night’s sleep if you find it difficult or uncomfortable to sleep on your back. Similar to the advice given to back sleepers, side-sleepers should support their spine with pillows between the knees for cervical support. Be sure to draw your knees up slightly toward your chest. In the middle of the night, if you want to switch sides, “log roll” your whole body from your right side to your left or vice versa. Twisting at the torso can cause immediate pain and puts your spine at risk of re-injury or new injury.

Sleeping on your stomach, after back surgery, is not recommended.

Stomach Sleeping

There's no stopping someone who has had back surgery from sleeping on the stomach, though it is not recommended for obvious reasons and is not the best way to sleep after surgery. If you choose to sleep on your stomach, place a pillow beneath your stomach to alleviate pressure from your neck and back. Put a flatter pillow under your chest to slightly raise your neck and reduce strain and pressure on the neck and your low back.

It’s All About Alignment

After surgery, whether you prefer sleeping on your back, side, or stomach, the goal is maintaining proper spinal alignment. While it may be tempting to skip the pillows because they feel foreign to you or seem awkward, they are needed to ensure that your spine stays aligned while you sleep, which leads to a good night’s rest and minimized pain overnight.

Other Helpful Tips

  • Having the correct mattress goes a long way to ensure that you’re getting your best sleep. Try a firm or medium-firm mattress after back surgery.
  • Use the log roll technique to switch positions when side-sleeping or when getting out of bed.
  • Listen to your body or your preferences. As a general rule of thumb, sleep in the position that feels most comfortable.
  • Sleep for as long as you are able. If lying down is too painful, get out of bed and move around and once you feel drowsy, try to sleep again.

Expect a degree of pain in your back after surgery. Finding the best way to sleep will alleviate a lot of pain and make rest pleasant. However, if your back pain worsens, contact your surgeon immediately. The most important thing to remember is to follow your doctor’s instructions after you’ve had surgery.

Updated: March 2, 2020

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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