Sleeping After Heart Surgery

Posted by Heart Hugger on May 5, 2023 12:15:00 PM

sleeping after heart surgery

It is quite common for patients to complain of having trouble sleeping after heart surgery. It can mean added stress during recovery, as patients are tired and want sleep, and because most recognize how vital sleep is to the recovery process

Let's take a look at some of the factors that affect post-surgery sleep patterns as well as tips to help you sleep better.

Things That Can Impact Your Sleep After Surgery

It can be helpful to understand the different variables that can reduce your ability to sleep. The most common reasons for an inability to sleep include:

  • Anesthesia's lingering effects
  • Pain or discomfort 
  • Disruptions to your daily routines
  • Stress, worry, or concern stemming from the surgery or other issues in your life

Fortunately, physical symptoms can be addressed with pain management techniques and will begin to get better over time. Patients tend to get accustomed to changes in their routine relatively quickly as well, so it might be helpful for you to know that sleep issues will improve with time on their own. 

Insomnia After Surgery

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder. It's categorized in two ways:

  • Primary or secondary: Primary insomnia exists on its own rather than being a symptom of something else, while secondary insomnia is related to a specific health condition.
  • Chronic or acute: Chronic insomnia can last more than six months and is generally caused by long-term conditions such as depression or stress; acute insomnia is shorter in duration and usually caused by a temporary discomfort or situation.

If you have trouble sleeping after surgery, especially heart surgery, you're likely experiencing primary acute insomnia.

Primary acute Insomnia Causes

This kind of insomnia can be caused by one or more of the following things:

Anesthesia Effects

Anesthesia can interrupt your natural or preferred sleep schedule. It may also have lingering effects that, while often mild, might make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. This is especially true right after your heart surgery.


Pain is an ongoing concern after surgery, especially when you're trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. You may be distracted by existing pain or worried about causing more pain by trying to find the right sleeping position--all factors that can lead to post-surgery insomnia.


Inflammation is the body's way of protecting you, and it's a natural response to surgery. However, wider-spread inflammation can be uncomfortable and may disrupt your ability to get comfortable, fall asleep, or get the quality rest you need to heal.

Environmental Distractions

Your environment changes a lot after heart surgery. During initial recovery, you'll still be in the hospital, where nurses and doctors, visitors, noises, and constant activity could all become significant distractions. Once you're able to go home, you may still feel like things aren't the same as they were before, especially if you've moved to a different room or house for easier access after your surgery.

Disrupted Schedule

Your body has a natural sleep rhythm, and you have your own sleep schedule. When one or both of these are disrupted, you might find it difficult to get back into your previous habits--especially if you try to take naps during the day.


Some medications have side effects that can cause or aggravate insomnia. However, you need these medications as part of your healing and recovery process, so talk to your doctor if you suspect these medicines are responsible for sleeping problems.


Stress is perhaps the biggest cause of post-surgery insomnia--and also the most difficult one to identify. You may be stressed about your environment, the pressures of having surgery (and recovering from it), meeting your daily needs, and more.

Best Sleeping Positions After Surgery

Things like anxiety and pain management, a quiet environment, and muscle-relaxing exercises can help you overcome insomnia and other problems sleeping after surgery. However, one of the most effective solutions is to find a sleep position that keeps you comfortable without aggravating your incision site. Remember to ask your doctor for suggestions and support.

Here are a few ideal options:


Sleeping on your back may be one of your best choices after heart surgery. That's because this position helps keep your head, neck, and spine aligned--which, in turn, puts less pressure on your chest and the incision area.


Talk to your doctor about sleeping on your side. They might recommend that you position pillows behind you for additional support or that you only sleep on your right side. They might also recommend this sleeping position because it's easier (and better for your recovery) to rise from your side than to try sitting straight up. Just avoid shifting onto your stomach when sleeping or maneuvering.


There may be a need to prop pillows behind you and sleep in a position that looks (and feels) almost like sitting. Your doctors and nurses might help you do this at the hospital, but you can follow the same instructions and do it at home, too.

Tips For Better Sleep After Heart Surgery

Of course, knowing things will get better later doesn't help you when sleep is elusive now. Try out some or all of these tips to help you rest easier. 

Pain Management

You will likely be prescribed some pain medication, so talk to your doctor about the best times to take them. Ask specifically about when to take them before bedtime for maximum benefit. 

Ensuring you don't overdo any physical activity during the day can also help you at bedtime. Consider a surgical support device like Heart Hugger for physical support and pain relief. Heart Hugger offers maximum comfort, accelerated healing, and overall relief during your recovery process.


One of the most powerful things you can do after heart surgery is create a routine. Routines can help your body learn the signals of rest, relaxation, and when it's time to go to bed. Some of the tasks to consider adding into a daily schedule include:

  • Taking pain medication at specific times
  • Avoiding long naps and taking strategic, shorter ones earlier in the day
  • Slowly incorporating activity and balancing it with rest
  • Creating a bedtime routine with relaxing rituals 
  • Stopping caffeine intake at a set time in the afternoon 

Though your typical routine is disrupted, adapting to a new one during your recovery is easy if you stick to it from the beginning. This is most important when it comes to bedtime routines and those tasks throughout the day that might impact your sleep later. 

Ask For Help

You'll need help in a variety of ways after surgery, so don't be afraid to seek it out -- from loved ones and from tools. Some ways you might ask for help related to sleep are:

  • Enlisting your spouse or friend to chat when you're feeling anxious
  • Listening to relaxing music, guided meditations, or any other soothing sounds you find helpful
  • Asking for a back or shoulder rub
  • Getting help when needed to get comfortable by arranging pillows or shifting positions

Take Care of Your Body

It's crucial that you be kind to yourself and listen to what your body is telling you. Overexerting yourself can cause more pain, resulting in less sleep and a longer recovery time. 

Additionally, it can be useful to treat yourself as you're healing. That might mean something as taking a relaxing shower in the evening, snuggling up with a favorite blanket, or reading a good book to wind down before bed. 

In many cases, patients recovering from heart surgery don't have to sleep in a specific position. Be sure to ask your doctor about this so you can get comfortable at bedtime without worrying about disrupting your incision. 

Talk to Your Doctor If…

It's a good idea to chat with your doctor if your lack of sleep is making a pronounced difference on your well-being or recovery. You should also consult with your doctor if your sleep patterns do not return to normal within three weeks or so.

You'll likely have follow up appointments post-surgery, so don't be afraid to bring up any concerns you might have about your sleep. Physicians understand the importance of rest during recovery, and they will want to make sure you're getting as much of it as you can. 

Learn more about heart surgery recovery with Heart Hugger

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