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Difficulty sleeping is a common complaint among patients recovering from heart surgery. From the effects of anesthesia to surviving the trauma of surgery to not knowing what sleep positions are safe, there are physical and emotional factors keeping you up at night.

If you are having trouble sleeping after heart surgery, here are a few sleep positions to try:

Best sleep positions after heart surgery

  1. Upright. For the first few weeks post-surgery, while your breastbone heals, sleeping upright in a bed or recliner can provide the most comfort. Consider using a neck pillow to support your neck and spine. Because sleeping upright isn't always sustainable — getting enough continuous, quality sleep while upright becomes problematic — this position isn't recommended long-term.
  2. Back. As you continue to heal from heart surgery, you'll want to keep as much strain off your heart and chest as you can. Sleeping on your back allows your head, neck and spine to align, relieving pressure and pain. If you find it difficult to get in and out of bed, prop yourself up with pillows to allow for easier transition.
  3. Right side. Sleeping on your side is a good alternative for people who are normally stomach sleepers, but can't sleep on their stomachs. While side sleeping in general is acceptable, studies show that people with heart conditions have more chest pain and trouble breathing when sleeping on the left side; therefore, the right side is recommended after heart surgery.

Other sleeping tips:

  • Many patients complain about a hyper-awareness of their heartbeats when they are trying to sleep. This is extremely common if you have just had a heart procedure and should go away in the first weeks after surgery.
  • For proper recovery, you need an appropriate balance of rest and exercise. Once given the go-ahead, a regular exercise regimen will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid taking long naps during the day, to allow for better rest at night.
  • Take your pain medication at least a half hour before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine in the evening. This includes coffee, tea, soda and chocolate.

You should be back to your normal sleep routines a few months after heart surgery. Call your doctor or healthcare provider if you notice a change in your behavior, if your lack of sleep is affecting your life or if you find you are depressed or have thoughts of suicide.

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