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7 Tips for Sleeping Well After Spinal Surgery

Published December 13, 2017
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff  
Tags:  Tips And Tricks

Sleeping well after spinal surgery may be difficult, but it's possible. As you know, sleep promotes healthy muscle growth, tissue repair, and hormone production. Long stretches of it helps maintain our health and wellness too. We think of sleep as a time that the mind and body power off. On the contrary, “Sleep is an active period where a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs,” according to the Sleep Foundation. “Exactly how this happens and why our bodies are programmed for such a long period of slumber is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists do understand some of sleep's critical functions, and the reasons we need it for optimal health and well-being.”

So what can you do improve sleeping after spinal fusion surgery? Here are seven tips for you to follow.

1. Beware of Blue Light

Blue light from a TV, computer, or cell phone screen make falling asleep hard. Research shows that blue light blocks melatonin release. The American Medical Association warns that “nighttime lighting” has “potential carcinogenic effects related to melatonin suppression.” This light can disrupt circadian rhythm exposing you to health problems. Use monitors with blue light filters to reduce your exposure.

2. Sleeping on Your Back

Try placing a pillow between your knees to support your spine. This makes sleeping easier and relieves post-surgery discomfort. It’s important to keep your arms at your sides, if possible. Placing your arms under or over your neck or head adds pressure to your neck and shoulders. This can lead to possible complications. John Hopkins Medicine Orthopaedic Surgery Division says lying flat on your back or on either of your sides reduces pain when sleeping after spinal fusion surgery.

3. Sleeping on Your Side

Place a pillow between your knees to get the best lower back support. Be sure to change side sleeping positions often. Some experts advocate left side sleeping for its health benefits—minimizes acid reflux and heartburn, increases digestion, drains toxins from the lymph nods, improves circulation, and more. So while side sleeping benefits your back, it does wonders for other aspects of your health. Health expert Dr. John Douillard said, “Emphasizing the left side for rest and sleep offers some time-tested wisdom for very real health and longevity benefits.”

Finding sleep after having spinal surgery.Caption: By alternating sides, you will further enhance your spine's alignment — just don't forget about that pillow in-between your knees, which will keep your hips, pelvis, and spine aligned.

4. Your Mattress Type Matters

Board-certified physical therapist Marleen Caldwell recommends a well-made innerspring, foam, or Tempur-Pedic mattress for helping you sleep better after spinal fusion surgery. “If your hips are wider than your waist, a softer mattress can accommodate the width of your pelvis and allow your spine to remain neutral,” Caldwell offers. “If your hips and waist are in a relatively straight line, a more rigid surface offers better support.”

5. Pillows

Use pillows to fill the space between your neck and mattress. This maintains your head in a neutral position for sleeping on your back. Use a thicker pillow in between your knees for side sleeping. This takes the pressure off the rest of your body. As you change sleeping positions, add pillows to keep your spine neutral. “Make sure your mattress has enough support, and your pillow provides enough comfort. If you have had your mattress and/or pillow for a long time, it may be time to replace them,” says Dr. Stefano Sinicropi, a board-certified expert in spinal surgery.

6. After Your Alarm Goes Off

If you snooze, you lose. Hitting the snooze button interrupts natural patterns of sleep. This chips away at the restorative values of a good night’s rest. Instead, get up and move around. According to Southeastern Spine Institute, walking helps recovery by preventing muscle atrophy and blood clots from developing. It helps regulate bowels movement, too. Walk as often as you can without stressing your body.

7. Listen to Your Body

Sleeping after spinal fusion surgery may be difficult for some time. If your body hurts, rest. Now that you know how to sleep correctly and how beneficial it really is for your road to recovery, hopefully you'll have many restful nights ahead. If you're worried about sleeping following any surgery, talk to your physician during your pre-surgical consultation about these concerns and their recommendations.

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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