This post has been quality checked in line with our Editorial and Research Policy.

How to Sleep Comfortably After Gallbladder Surgery (4 Ways)

Darshan Shingala Profile Picture.
  • This article has been written and medically reviewed by Darshan Shingala (M.D, MPH) – a qualified and practicing medical doctor – for maximum factual accuracy and reliability.

The gallbladder is a tiny, pouch-like digestive organ located behind the liver on the upper right portion of the abdomen – responsible for the storage of a greenish-colored digestive juice called bile.

The gallbladder may need to be removed due to disease or infection, and getting to sleep post-surgery can be difficult due to pain and discomfort.

So how do you get to sleep after gallbladder surgery?

The most effective ways to sleep more comfortably after gallbladder surgery are to sleep on your back or left side (avoid the right side where the surgical incisions are); take doctor-prescribed pain medications with care; relax with meditation before bed; and eat healthy to boost recovery.

The rest of this article expands upon these points in more detail to help you sleep more soundly after your surgery.

The second half of this article also explains how gallbladder surgery can affect your sleep.

However, this article is for information purposes only and should not replace the advice of your doctor.

Related: try sleeping on the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress (click for my review here) post-surgery to experience greater pressure relief and more comfort overall.

4 Ways to Sleep Better After Gallbladder Surgery

Here are 4 ways that you can implement to sleep more soundly after your gallbladder surgery:

1: Sleep On Your Back or Left Side to Reduce Pain

It’s best to sleep on your back or your left side after gallbladder surgery because these positions put the least amount of strain on the abdominal wall and won’t put pressure on the surgery site.

After your surgery, it might be necessary for you to make some adjustments to your sleeping positions.

For instance, if you usually sleep on your stomach (in a prone position) you would have to start sleeping on your back or side after your surgery.

This is because, if you sleep on your abdomen, it will add unnecessary pressure on your surgical wounds, worsen your symptoms and prolong your recovery time.

If you are a side sleeper generally, you might want to consider sleeping on your left side instead of your right side.

This is because the gallbladder is located on the right side, just below the liver, and sleeping on the right side can cause pain right after the surgery.

If you continue to struggle despite changing your sleeping position, consider talking to your doctor about it and he/she can perhaps demonstrate or suggest alternative sleeping postures for you.

You can also try putting pillows around you to stop you from turning over.

2: Take Doctor Prescribed Pain Medications With Care

After your surgery, your physician will provide you with a detailed post-surgery care protocol which will enlist a few medications to manage your pain and speed up your recovery.

It is highly recommended that you follow your doctor’s prescription and take all your medications in a timely manner.

In general, your doctor will prescribe you some kind of pain-relieving medication which can either be prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen or opioid painkillers such as codeine, hydrocodone, and morphine.

It is important that you manage your pain and inflammation very well since they are crucial impediments to sleeping comfortably post-surgery.

In other words, the better you manage your pain and inflammation, the better you can sleep at night while recovering after your gallbladder removal surgery.

However, if you continue to struggle with your sleep, it is recommended that you approach your doctor and discuss your concerns at length with him/her.

It is likely that your doctor would make some changes to your prescription, especially in terms of the dosages of the prescribed medications.

You may also choose to discuss with your doctor the option of taking some medications which can induce sleep such as melatonin or zolpidem.

Please note that zolpidem is a prescription-only medication and it must be used only at the discretion of your doctor since it may have some serious side effects due to its habit-forming characteristics.

3: Manage Stress to Boost Relaxation and Recovery

Relaxing Sleep Music • Deep Sleeping Music, Relaxing Music, Stress Relief, Meditation Music (Flying)

Since surgery can be quite taxing for your body and may induce added physical, mental, and emotional stress, it is necessary that you develop some good mechanisms for stress management.

Many people have reported in various scientific studies that meditation, journaling, taking up a hobby such as listening to music or painting, and having heart-to-heart conversations with friends and family are great stress-busters.

If you already have a well-established technique for coping with day-to-day stress, it would be a good idea for you to continue with those techniques in your post-op period as they may bring you some comfort.

Or else, you can also adopt a new stress management activity in your recovery period, such as reading a book or listening to e-books (try listening to the meditation video above with your earbuds in).

4: Improve Your Diet to Enhance Healing

Improving your diet and lifestyle can help to optimize your recovery and help you return to a normal sleep schedule.

For instance, you can try to improve the quality of your diet by consuming healthy, fresh, organic, and balanced meals in small portions at regularly spaced intervals throughout the day.

You can also try to drink some herbal teas like jasmine tea, lavender tea, or natural green tea – as they have stress-relieving and calming properties.

For the optimization of your overall wellbeing, it would be a good idea to practice yoga, light exercises, body stretches, and breathing exercises for at least 15 to 20 minutes per day.

However, please be advised that you must observe bed rest for a few days immediately after your surgery – only resume physical activity as advised by your doctor.

How Gallbladder Surgery Can Affect Sleep

Below is a short guide that explains what gallbladder surgery is and how it can affect your sleep.

The Gallbladder Aids Digestion

The gallbladder is a small organ situated under the liver on the right section of the abdomen.

This organ stores bile which is produced in the liver; and facilitates the transfer of bile juice to the small intestine during the process of digestion.

Disease and Infection May Require Gallbladder Removal

Gallbladder diseases such as gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis), abscess (empyema), ileus, polyps, porcelain, perforation of the pouch, gallstones, common bile duct stones (choledocholithiasis), or infection are potential scenarios in which the doctor might recommend surgical removal of the gallbladder.

This surgical procedure is clinically known as cholecystectomy.

The cholecystectomy surgery can be performed either laparoscopically or as a laparotomic cholecystectomy surgery depending on the individual case, symptoms, socio-economic status, and physician-patient discussion.

Gallbladder Surgery May Cause Gastric Issues

After the gallbladder surgery, all the bile from the liver is directly released into the small intestine to support digestion.

However, hefty portions of oily, fatty, or fibrous food items become difficult to digest, hence, removal of this storage pouch may potentially result in indigestion, bloating, diarrhea, or other gastric issues.

Buying an adjustable bed and sleeping on an incline may help to alleviate indigestion and digestive issues.

Laparotomic Surgery May Disrupt Sleep More Noticeably

Variable sleeping discomfort has been reported to be associated with the type of surgery; that is, laparoscopic or laparotomic cholecystectomy.

According to the scientific literature, increased sleeping disorders are observed among patients who underwent laparotomic removal of the gallbladder as it is a more invasive procedure when compared to those patients who underwent a laparoscopic removal of the gallbladder.

Sleep Disturbances Can be Influenced by Existing Conditions

Another reason for the disturbance of sleeping patterns after surgery is stress adaptation.

This is a usual consequence of the post-surgical stress response because the circadian rhythm of the body tends to get altered after any surgery.

Sleep disturbances after surgery can be influenced by a variety of complicated risk factors.

For instance, factors like the age and gender of the patient, level of trauma-induced due to the surgery, mode of anesthesia, co-morbidities of the patient, pain threshold, medications, pre and post-surgical complications, patient environment, and other psychological factors.

Patients who were already facing difficulty in sleeping prior to the surgery are more prone to have sleeping disturbances after the surgery.

Also, people who have already been diagnosed with diseases such as Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), or Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) may often face sleeping associated issues.

Further Reasons For Sleep Disruption Post-Surgery

There can be several other common reasons which can be responsible for sleeping discomfort after surgery, such as:

Change in lifestyle

Differences in lifestyle pre and post-surgery – such as performing routine activities with and without assistance or peer support, change in diet, work schedule, limitation of social activities, and overthinking – are potential reasons behind a disturbed circadian rhythm.

Pain

Increased and unwanted pain post-surgery can make it difficult for the patient to fall asleep, stay asleep, and maintain a deep sleeping state.

Also, sleeping in a forced position, moving, or changing position while asleep can stimulate pain and disturb your sleep.

Medications

A few medications are prescribed by physicians to reduce inflammation post-surgery, but they can often cause difficulty in sleeping.

Some medications may even make you feel tired when you want to feel wide awake.

In these cases, rescheduling medication timings, dosage, and having a detailed discussion with your physician is recommended.

Atmosphere and surroundings

Extrinsic factors such as noise, lightning, and room temperature may also hinder your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Even the slightest murmur, fluctuation in temperature, or a beam of light may annoy and trouble the patient enough to prevent sleep.   

Use these 19 techniques to darken your room for better sleep.

Emotional state

Surgeries are as emotionally draining if not more than being physically stressful.

Generally, stress hormones in the body are increased after the surgery, which in turn makes getting a sound night’s sleep more challenging.

This can be made worse if you already have issues that are heightening your emotions such as relationship or money worries.

Click here to discover 20 ways to sleep better after a breakup.

Dietary restrictions

In a few cases, patients are prescribed to follow a case-specific diet after surgery.

For example, exclusion of alcohol and acidic food items, not consuming food after evening hours, eating lots of green leafy vegetables and fruits etc.

This may not be as per the patient’s routine dietary habits – thoughts of which may trouble the patient in falling or staying asleep.

Older Patients Are More Likely to Have Disrupted Sleep

Multiple pieces of scientific research have indicated that problems associated with sleep are usual maladies related to increasing age.

Studies have revealed that the elderly population is more prone to being diagnosed with sleeping disorders.

This is because with increasing age, levels of melatonin significantly decrease in comparison to the younger population.

Also, elderly patients have weakened physiological reserves and a strong prevalence of fragility, which may negatively affect their central nervous system and lead to sleeping disorders – especially after surgery.

Conclusion: Apply Multiple Techniques

The best way to improve your sleep after gallbladder surgery is to incorporate multiple techniques such as sleeping on your back or left side; talking to your doctor to get the correct pain medications; using meditation to relax before bed, and improving your diet to boost recovery.

A new mattress may also help to improve your posture, alleviate pressure, and help you to sleep more comfortably post-surgery.

I personally recommend the Puffy Lux Hybrid because when sleeping on this mattress, I experience greater comfort in areas of my body that have previously undergone surgery – such as my knee cartilage.

Click the button below to learn more.


Sources and References

[1] PubMed – Laparoscopic cholecystectomy causes less sleep disturbance than open abdominal surgery: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11965464/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[2] NCBI – Efficacy of melatonin on sleep quality after laparoscopic cholecystectomy: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302692/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[3] NCBI – How does the gallbladder work? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279386/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[4] PubMed – Circadian rhythms, aging and memory: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10996063/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[5] PubMed – Sleep homeostasis and models of sleep regulation: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10643753/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[6] PubMed – Sleep deficiency and chronic pain: potential underlying mechanisms and clinical implications: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31207606/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[7] PubMed – Unrecognized Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Postoperative Cardiovascular Complications: A Wake-up Call: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31087008/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[8] PubMed – The effects of aging on sleep parameters in a healthy, melatonin-competent mouse model: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31496853/ Accessed 21/5/21.

[9] PubMed – Sleep complaints cosegregate with illness in older adults: clinical research informed by and informing epidemiological studies of sleep: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12127171/ Accessed 21/5/21.

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this article or website offers medical advice – always consult with your doctor or a qualified medical professional for the best advice for your needs.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Sleeping’ by Jelena Danilovic (Getty Images) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

Leave a comment