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From Hospital to Home:  The Best Way to Sleep After Back Surgery

After back or spinal surgery–such as spinal fusion, disc replacement, laminectomy, discectomy, and lumbar spine surgery— the road to recovery can be challenging at times. Although eager to finally feel pain free, healing your body post-surgery is a process. The treating physician and nursing staff will have presumably written discharge instructions and prescriptions, but there are other practical preparations that can be made to ease the transition from hospital to home.

A big concern that people encounter–either before or after they return from the hospital– is finding the best way to get a good night’s sleep. In order to maximize the rest you receive, it’s important to plan ahead to avoid discomfort. To keep you on track to a successful recovery, we have a few tips from medical experts to ensure your sleep is as restorative and pain-free as possible.

Tips for Sleeping After Back Surgery


Sleep Positions:

According to McGill’s Montreal Neurological Hospital, laying down will exert the least amount of pressure on your back. Talking to a physiotherapist will help you determine the most comfortable position for your body and post-surgical procedure. A firm mattress is the best sleep surface, and soft pillows will add support for your neck and legs (under knees.)

According to Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, founder and president of Atlantic Spine Center, sleeping in any position that doesn’t cause back pain is recommended. Dr. Liu says, “Continuous, uninterrupted sleep is important for healing faster.”

Sleeping on your back:

Although it might sound counterintuitive, back sleeping is a great sleeping position post back surgery. John’s Hopkins Orthopaedic Surgery recommends that if you lay on your back, slipping a pillow (or tightly rolled blanket)  beneath your knees will help reduce any pressure. When sleeping on your back, try to avoid sleeping with your arms over your head because it will put stress on your shoulders and neck.

Sleeping on your side:

Sleeping on your side is also a great position to reduce pain after surgery, according to John’s Hopkins Orthopaedic Surgery. Sleeping with your knees bent and a pillow either under or between your knees, is important for spinal alignment. If side sleeping is the most beneficial for you, be sure that your legs rest on top of each other and are bent, with the top leg slightly forward. Try to avoid resting your top knee on the bed and sleeping with your arms under your head or neck. To stay in the side sleeping position, place a pillow behind the body and tucked under the back and hips to avoid rolling out of the position.

Sleeping on your stomach: 

According to Neuro Micro Spine, Mark Giovani MD, says that stomach sleeping is not usually permitted or recommended for patients recovering from surgery. It would be best to consult with your doctor about this sleeping position.

*A Note on Changing Positions:

Changing positions in bed post back surgery can be very difficult. The best method to protect your back when shifting sleep positions or getting up from bed, is the log-roll. To log-roll, simply 1) keep your back straight to avoid twisting, and roll to your side, 2) push off the surface with your arms, and 3) gently swing your legs to the floor.

We recommend consulting with your doctor during preparation for your surgery to determine what positions will be best suited to your sleep architecture, style, and your surgical incision location.

Limit Naps

This is one of the hardest ones, we empathize with you! Between medications and your body actively working to heal itself, you may be fatigued, sleepy, and tired. However, it’s best not to nap too much during the day. Napping frequently or for long durations during the day may inhibit your ability to sleep at night. Sleeping whenever drowsiness hits may cause you to mix up your days and nights in terms of sleeping patterns. When the urge to crash presents itself, try to distract yourself to stay awake and alert.

Sleep Location

The more comfortable your recovery space, the more rest you will receive. Think about the location of your bed. Is it downstairs? If so, consider moving your bed downstairs ahead of time, because navigating stairs post-surgery can be tricky.

Prepare Your Bedroom

While you are regrouping, you may need a few things on-hand and within reach. Think about those important items and how you can easily access them from bed. Do you have a space to keep your medications close by? Will the TV need to be moved closer to the bed? Even the small things, such as, seeing if your phone charger is long enough to reach you while in bed.

An organizer with a change of clothes and a heating pad is always good to keep nearby. For bed linens, light sheets and blankets will be easier to move without having to adjust your position if you get too hot or cold while sleeping.

Stick To a Sleep Schedule

This tip goes hand in hand with nap limitations. If your circadian rhythm is on track, the easier it will be to fight daytime drowsiness. Restoring and healing your body does take a lot of energy, and is best done when sleep is continuous and uninterrupted. If you are struggling to stick to a sleep schedule, pay attention to your caffeine intake, level of daily physical activity, and your nighttime routine.

Use Ice and Heat

If pain is keeping you from falling asleep, practice good pain management by wearing comfortable clothing and proper body positioning in all activities that you might engage in throughout the day. Following the heat and ice instructions provided by your doctor will help relieve tension or muscle pain, making it easier to drift off to dreamland.

Follow your Rehabilitation Instructions

It is imperative that a patient carefully follows their rehabilitation plan post-operation. Stretching and exercise within the realms of your rehabilitation plan with enhance your recovery and aid in the prevention of future pain. Movement has many added benefits as a mood-enhancer, and the activity should help you sleep more soundly.

Pillows and Mattress

The goal to sleeping post-surgery, whether it be on your side or back, is to maintain proper alignment. The right pillows will be helpful to add support where it is needed, so you can heal in the proper position and remain comfortable while your body recovers.

Sleeping with your spine properly aligned is the best way to have a truly good night’s rest and minimize your pain. A firmer sleep surface will be best post-operation, because a softer mattress will absorb your weight and cradle the body, making it more difficult to get out of bed or safely change positions.

Take it from us, or take it from spinal surgeon, Dr. Stefano Sinicropi of Centennial Lakes Medical Center. He suggests considering the support level of your pillows and mattress. If you’ve had your mattress or pillows for a long time, it might be wise to replace them.

How a Natural Form Mattress Can Help You Heal Post-Surgery

Our patented and sophisticated technology is featured in 1,200 hospitals across the country. Clinically tested and trusted, our adjustable technology will allow you to fine tune your support both pre and post-surgery.

The technology uses air to naturally keep your spine properly aligned. Without pumps or motors, the system will provide pressure relief to all parts of your body. As you adjust positions, the mattress will adapt and adjust with you.

If you prefer a softer sleep surface, but need to make the mattress firmer during your recovery process, our dial will allow you to customize a sleep surface to help your body heal and keep you sound asleep. Better yet, if you sleep with a partner, their side will not have to change or be compromised, because the systems operate separately.

Our signature wool cover will keep you comfortable and cushioned while recovering on a firmer surface, but also help your body temperature stay regulated. Wool naturally is antimicrobial, moisture wicking, and thermal, keeping you warm or cool when you need it.

Our reviews speak for themselves. Read about the many patients who proclaim the benefits of a Natural Form post-back surgery. You’ll even see patients review how the mattress has aided in the prevention of further injury.

You Can Do This!

It’s important to remember that healing is a gradual process. Activity restrictions and slow recovery can be disheartening at times. Focus on the small victories and keep your eye on the end result of a healed and restored body. Staying motivated will keep propelling you down the road of recovery. Asking for help and staying positive will be a significant help during the recovery journey. Good luck and good health to you!

Back Surgery Reviews

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