The good news about having hernia surgery is that you will finally be able to alleviate some of the pain, discomfort, and increasing bulge that comes along with the hernia. The bad news is that recovery time can take 1-2 weeks, and during that time, you will need to figure out how to sleep comfortably without causing additional damage or pain.
Because of the potential to disrupt your newly acquired stitches it’s advised to sleep at an elevated position for the first few weeks after your hernia surgery. You can easily achieve this elevation by using a recliner, extra pillows, a wedge pillow, or by sleeping in an adjustable bed.
After the first few weeks, as you heal, you can begin to sleep flat on your back or on your side. Be sure to make any changes to your position slowly while listening to your body.
How to Keep Elevated While You Sleep
Many of us are not used to the nightly practice of sleeping with our upper body elevated and may be unaware of how to do it properly. After hernia surgery, elevated sleeping is the best option to help prevent the additional pain that occurs when you try to sit up from a fully flat position. Here are a few simple ways that you can use to stay elevated throughout the night comfortably:
- A recliner – If you have been looking for a great excuse to invest in a modern recliner, now is your chance to write it off as a healthcare expense. Because sitting up and down will be painful for the first few days (and possibly longer), the automation of a recliner will take some of the strain off of your body. I recently picked up a recliner, for my husband after his surgery, for this very reason. He absolutely loves it, and says that his recovery has been a lot easier than his first surgery (this is currently his second surgery). Check it out on Amazon – Yandel Power Lift Recliner.
- Extra pillows – A more economical route requires just a few extra pillows added to your nightly sleep routine. When using only cushions to keep your torso elevated, be sure to include enough pillows to raise both your head and chest. Avoid raising only your head to prevent putting extra strain on your neck.
- A wedge pillow – For those who have health conditions that often require them to sleep in an elevated position, a wedge pillow is a very sound investment. It can give you the ideal degree of elevation that you need, and you can add your own pillow on top of it as well. Adding your pillow will allow you to have added personalization that will give you the most comfort. If you decide to for go a recliner, a wedge pillow is an absolute bare minimum necessity to help you sleep in an elevated position. I personally recommend using an Xtreme Comforts Wedge Pillow (link to Amazon) to help achieve the best angle for comfortably sleeping after a hernia surgery.
- Bed risers – If your bed frame allows it, a bed riser will give you a slight rise at the head of the bed, and they can be easily removed when you no longer need them. Adjustable options give you the opportunity to raise the head of your bed to the perfect height at a low cost. Here are some bed risers I’ve found on Amazon.
- An adjustable bed frame – A slightly more costly option is to purchase an entirely adjustable bed frame. Like a wedge pillow, this is an excellent option for those who may suffer from other health conditions as well. An adjustable bed frame has the added benefit of allowing you to start sleeping up higher and then gradually lowering yourself back down at your own pace. I highly recommend going with a LUCID L100 Adjustable Bed Frame (link to Amazon) which is actually very reasonably priced given its construction and reliability.
How to Get In And Out of Bed
As mentioned, sleeping after your hernia surgery may be the easy part; however, getting in and out of your bed may prove to be a little more challenging. Once the pain killers kick in, and the pain starts to dissipate, you will still want to take care of your incision as you move from place to place.
Ensure that your pillows or what you are using for an elevation prop is securely in place. You don’t want to have to fidget with it once you are already sitting or lying down. You also want to keep an extra pillow on the bed and hug it close to your abdomen during each transition.
- Sit down on the mattress close to the head of the bed.
- Ease yourself down to lay on your side.
- Bring both legs up onto the bed.
- From this side-lying position, you can then roll onto your back.
- Try to avoid needing to make too many adjustments once you are laying down.
To get out of the bed, you’ll do the exact reverse of getting in. Remember to keep your pillow held tightly to your body as you get up.
- Roll onto your side if you aren’t already.
- Let your legs extend off the side of the bed.
- Use your elbow and forearm to push yourself up into a sitting position.
- Your legs should act as a counterweight to help steady yourself as you sit up.
When laying back or sitting up in bed, remember to keep your breathing steady and try not to take in sharp inhales. Also, be sure to exhale when you sit up, rather than inhale through the motion. Inhale slowly first, then exhale as you move. Some people tend to inhale sharply as they sit up because this feels more natural; however, exhaling during the action is the proper way to breathe to prevent causing injury.
What to Avoid During Your Sleep After Hernia Surgery
Our body’s natural reaction to pain and pain avoidance is pretty much to freeze up. If you don’t feel like you are in too much pain, you might actually start to forget that you have a healing wound, and might pick up your normal activities without taking the incision into consideration. While some actions are unavoidable, there are just a few things you definitely want to avoid during the healing process. These include:
- Holding your breath – Practice the breathing exercises that should be given to you by your doctor. Maintaining proper breathing will help to prevent pneumonia.
- Twisting your upper torso – Not only will turning your body from side to side be incredibly uncomfortable, but it can damage your stitches and incision.
- Sleeping on your stomach – When sleeping on your stomach, it’s possible to unintentionally disrupt the stitches, causing more pain and poor sleep quality.
- Skipping on the props – Be sure to use props when needed, especially pillows. For example, when sleeping on your side, it may help to place a pillow between your knees to help relieve some of the pain and pressure.
- Not getting enough rest – One of the most important aspects of healing is being sure to get enough sleep. It is common to feel tired from the effort of keeping your incision protected throughout the day, so be sure to rest your body when you need to, and get plenty of sleep.
Other Hernia Healing Tips
For some, the healing process after hernia surgery is a long road with a few turns to be aware of. In order to avoid more pain, additional surgery, or a longer time spent healing, be sure to take the advice of the many people before you who have gone through hernia surgeries as well.
- Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activity – Lifting boxes, small children, or participating in any activity that places pressure on your abdominal wall can lead to further damage to the lining. Allow the abdominal wall and surrounding tissues to have ample time to heal.
- Take your medication as prescribed – As always, pain medication should be taken as prescribed. Some pain medications that are often prescribed after hernia surgery, such as codeine, can cause constipation. In this instance, consult with your doctor to see if other prescription drugs are available for you. Additionally, if you have been prescribed an antibiotic, be sure to complete the entire prescription.
- Only resume your normal activities after your doctor has cleared you – Hernia surgery patients should request clearance from their doctor for any daily activities that may put the surgical site at risk for further damage, such as driving or resuming some workplace tasks.
- Hug your pillow when you take deep breaths, cough, or sneeze – Keeping your pillow close by will help alleviate some of the pain when you’re forced to put stress on your incision.
- Maintain a regular diet – After hernia surgery, you should be able to resume your normal diet; however, you may want to avoid eating anything that will cause you to have strenuous bowel movements.
The best thing for your incision site after hernia surgery is to start small. While it may feel like you are moving at a snail’s pace, it’s better to work gradually back into your day-to-day activities, including your sleep position. Rushing into something that your body isn’t ready for will only cause more pain and could end up setting you back.
Listen to your doctor with regards to light exercise or physical activity, as well as any medication – both for pain and any other medicine that you are currently on.
It’s also important to keep in mind that every healing body is different. You should be free to go back to your healthy life after a few weeks; however, some people do experience sensitivity at the incision site for up to a few months. If this happens after your hernia surgery, be sure to consult with your doctor.