Recovering from surgery can be a challenging journey, and one essential aspect of this process is ensuring adequate and restful sleep. Quality sleep plays a crucial role in the body’s healing process, promoting faster recovery and overall well-being.

The Importance of Sleep

While we are sleeping, our bodies releases growth hormone, which is essential for tissue repair and regeneration. This is particularly crucial after surgery, as our bodies work to heal incisions, repair damaged tissues, and rebuild overall strength.

Adequate sleep is also known to both support the immune system and reduce inflammation. Post-surgery, a strong immune response is vital for preventing infections, and a reduction in inflammation promotes a more efficient recovery.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Proper positioning is critical to getting restful sleep after surgery. 

Upper Extremity: Sleeping on your back with several pillows under your arm and back to provide slight elevation will be the most comfortable position for you after surgery. You may consider purchasing a wedge pillow to elevate your upper body, or try sleeping in a recliner to assist you in having proper positioning. Do not place pressure on your operated shoulder by sleeping on the surgical side.

Lower Extremity: Try sleeping on your back with your leg slightly elevated with a stack of pillows to alleviate pressure and allow fluids to drain to reduce swelling. You may also purchase a dedicated wedge pillow for this. If you prefer to sleep on your side, place a pillow in between your knees to maintain proper alignment. Do not sleep with your injured side facing the bed, or on your stomach. 

Managing Pain and Discomfort

Sleep contributes to pain management by allowing your body to release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. Restorative sleep helps lower sensitivity to pain and improves overall pain tolerance. Following your surgeon’s instructions on medication management is important so you can get the rest you need. In addition to prescription and over the counter medication, you may want to consider these natural approaches to relieving pain: 

  • Cold therapy is one of the most effective ways to limit pain and control swelling. Consider icing your surgical site before you get into bed, or using a dedicated cold compression unit that will cycle on and off during the night.
  • Movement as medicine. We lose mobility when we stop using our joints. With a loss of mobility, comes a loss of function, and an increase in pain. Make sure that you are following your surgeon’s instructions and completing your daily exercises.  Regular, gentle exercise will help you recover both mentally and physically and will deepen sleep.
  • Mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and meditation can help relieve anxiety, reduce muscle tension, and promote relaxation. There are many guided sleep meditations available online for free that can help you unwind at night.

Establishing a Sleep Routine

Do your best to avoid napping, particularly in the late afternoon or evening, as much as possible. It’s important to establish a consistent sleep routine to regulate your body’s internal clock to where it was pre-surgery as quickly as possible after your procedure. Work towards getting out of bed at the same time each morning as you did before surgery to return to your normal sleep cycle early in your recovery.

Setting the Mood

Comfort is key after surgery and can be difficult to come by. Control the controllable and make sure your bedroom is nice and cool, that you have clean sheets, and light, loose blankets available. Avoid stimulating activities with bright lights before bed and try to minimize noise and light disturbances as much as possible.

Communicating with Your Healthcare Team

Recovery from surgery can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Sleep plays a crucial role in mood regulation, reducing stress, anxiety, and irritability. This emotional well-being is essential for a positive recovery experience. It’s important to communicate with your healthcare team if you are having difficulty sleeping. Sleeplessness can be a side effect from certain medications, and your physician may be able to help by adjusting medication or exploring alternative solutions with you.

Prioritizing Nutrition

Proper nutrition can contribute to better sleep after surgery. It’s important to stay well-hydrated and consume nutrient-rich foods that support the body’s healing process throughout the day. Consuming a well-balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats helps stabilize blood sugar levels. Balanced blood sugar levels can prevent spikes and crashes, promoting a more stable and restful sleep. Certain nutrients and minerals aid in relaxation and the production of sleep-regulating hormones and consuming the proper amount of amino acids can help with wound healing and muscle recovery. Focus on consuming a healthy diet of whole foods and avoid processed foods and stimulants such as caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime. A once-daily nutritional supplement such as a Complete Surgical Nutrition shake can give you the boost you need to have proper nutrition for optimal recovery and sleep. 

Sleep is a fundamental aspect of post-surgery recovery, supporting physical healing, emotional well-being, and overall recovery effectiveness. Prioritizing good sleep hygiene can significantly contribute to a smoother and more successful recovery journey. Proper nutrition and muti-modal pain management solutions will help recover more quickly. Remember that this is temporary, and to always follow the advice of tour healthcare team so you rediscover how to sleep naturally.