How to Sleep After Hernia Surgery (8 Effective Strategies)

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Article written and researched by Dr. Albert Stezin (MBBS, Ph.D – clinician and neuroscientist) to ensure uniqueness and for maximum factual accuracy.

Sleep is very important after surgery to help with recovery, but trying to get to sleep after hernia surgery can be very difficult because the abdominal pain that you’re experiencing can be made worse by slight movements like adjusting your position or even breathing.

So how do you get to sleep after hernia surgery?

The most effective ways to get to sleep after hernia surgery include taking doctor prescribed pain medication, sleeping at a 30-45 degree incline, using the DSLR and REPS techniques to get in and out of bed, and controlling conditions that can increase pain like coughing.

The rest of this article explains in more detail 8 ways that you can sleep better after your hernia surgery.

Related: sleeping with your upper body at a 30-45 degree incline is one of the most effective ways to get better sleep after hernia surgery and aid with recovery. Click here to buy a high-quality adjustable bed now (includes discounts too) so that you can get immediate relief.

8 Ways to Sleep Better After Hernia Surgery

Here are 8 ways to get to sleep after hernia surgery:

1: Sleep At a 30-45 Degree Incline

Sleeping with your upper body elevated at a 30-45 degree incline is one of the most significant steps that you can take to sleep better and accelerate healing after hernia surgery.

Surgeons specifically advise sleeping on your back with an elevated upper body in the first few weeks until the surgical site is completely healed.

Sleeping in this elevated posture has several advantages, such as:  

  • Preventing undue stress and inadvertent disruption of sutures at the surgical site whilst sleeping.  
  • Allowing for better control and limb mobility without tampering with your sutures. 
  • Decreasing pain and promoting healing after surgery.  
  • Combating other conditions such as acid reflux, congested nose, night-time cough, and sleep apnoea.

How to Sleep at a 30-45 Degree Incline After Hernia Surgery

The most effective ways to sleep in an inclined position after hernia surgery are to use an adjustable bed, recliner, bed riser, wedge pillow, or stack of pillows.

Some people find the elevation a significant departure from their usual sleep posture – potentially making them feel uncomfortable.

If you are uncomfortable, start a 10 degree incline and slowly build up to 30 degrees over 5-7 days.

Listed below are five ways that you can easily attain the elevation you need.

Investing in these items may be worth your money:

i) Adjustable Bed Frame

The easiest and safest way to sleep at an incline after hernia surgery is to sleep on an adjustable bed because you can use specific controls to achieve the exact incline that you feel comfortable with, and you won’t have to risk straining your neck.

If you don’t have an adjustable bed, you can buy an adjustable bed frame here – with options for compatible mattresses to buy too.

You have already encountered a hospital-grade version of an adjustable bed (also called a recliner bed) whilst in recovery at the hospital.  

The home-based versions of adjustable beds are typically much more comfortable and stylish, yet still capable of helping you to sleep at an angle that’s comfortable for you.

More specifically, an adjustable bed can be set to a number of different sleeping positions – including the ‘zero-gravity’ position that may also help to combat upper and lower back pain.

Adjustable beds have hinges and a motorized base to allow different segments of the bed to independently move to assume a variety of sleep postures.  

The latest features in a newer version include remote controls, smartphone access, USB ports, sleep trackers, and bed lights for monitoring your sleep.

Adjustable beds provide superior comfort, pain relief, sleep quality, and also make getting in and out of bed easier. 

Adjustable bed frames are also useful in a variety of conditions where specific sleeping postures are recommended – such as for heartburn, leg edema, sleep apnea, back pain due to spinal disc herniation, and whilst recuperating after a variety of surgical procedures.   

Click here to see the most cost effective adjustable beds and compatible mattresses now.

ii) Recliner Chair

A recliner chair allows you to incline your upper body to a comfortable sitting position whilst elevating your knees and legs to prevent you from sliding down.  

They also come with an adjustable foot and head rest for added comfort. 

These motorized chairs can help you get in and out of the seat by reclining to different angles and heights at the push of a button. 

Other benefits include quicker healing time and relief from surgical pain, back pain, breathing difficulty, and heartburn. 

They also offer adequate support and elevation to your legs.

This provides you with more comfort, and prevents blood from pooling and clotting in your leg (a much-dreaded complication called deep vein thrombosis).

iii) Wedge Pillow

Wedge pillows are cost-effective alternatives to recliners.  

They are triangular or wedge-shaped and can be used to sit up or sleep with your upper body in an elevated position, effectively converting your bed into a recliner.  

Wedge pillows are usually made from foam, polyester, or a combination of both. 

Wedges differ in their height and are measured in inches or degrees.

You should choose a wedge pillow based on the elevation you need. 

These types of pillows are also ideal for people who prefer to spend several hours in bed, reading, resting, or watching TV. 

When using a wedge pillow to sleep, raise your head and neck as well as your upper torso to prevent strain on your neck region.

iv) Bed Risers

Bed risers are simple, practical, and affordable alternatives to recliners. 

Bed risers fit like shoes on to the feet of your bedposts and provide the necessary lift required to keep your upper body elevated.  

They are made of wood or metal. 

Alternatively, people use books, bricks, or blocks to achieve the same effect.  

However, they are prone to instability and collapse if not properly used.

Another disadvantage is that a higher lift may cause you to slide down the bed while sleeping.

You can prevent this by placing a body pillow at the foot of the bed.

v) Pillows

A pillow is the most economical alternative to all of the above.

You can use pillows or cushions to prop yourself up to attain the necessary elevation.  

Pillows should be placed with long axis under the head, neck, and shoulder blades.  

However, the pillow may slip out or change position during sleep and may cause you to sleep in an abnormal position causing strain on the neck, spine, or the suture site.

Hence why buying an adjustable bed is the best way to sleep at an incline after hernia surgery because it offers excellent stability whilst also being able to keep you in good posture.

2: Use Specific Techniques to Get in and Out of Bed

Getting in and out of bed may be a challenge especially after hernia surgery.  

This is because the act of getting in or getting out of the bed invariably recruits the abdominal muscles which were cut during the surgery.

Furthermore, these movements tug at the partially healed incision and may open it up again.

Thus, in addition to the pain and discomfort, it also delays healing and prolongs recovery.

Getting in and out of bed is best done slowly and in short phases after hernia surgery.

Adhere to the following steps to exert the least amount of stress on your new sutures when getting in and out of bed after hernia surgery:

i) Use the ‘DSLR’ Technique to Get Into Bed After Hernia Surgery:

  • Down: Sit down on the mattress close to the center of the bed.
  • Side: Slowly ease your upper body down to lie on your side.
  • Legs: Raise your legs up onto the bed.
  • Roll: Carefully roll on to your back.

ii) Use the ‘REPS’ Technique to Get Out of Bed After Hernia Surgery:

  • Roll: Roll onto your side.
  • Extend: Extend your legs off from the side of the bed and allow them to hang down. 
  • Push: Push yourself into a sitting position using your elbow, forearm, and hand.
  • Stand: Steady yourself and step down.

The video below shows you how to get in and out of bed after hernia surgery using the DSLR and REPS techniques:

How to Get Into and Out of Bed After Surgery

3: Control Pain With Doctor Advised Painkillers

In addition to sleeping at an incline and using the DSLR and REPS techniques to get in and out of bed, taking painkillers prescribed by your doctor is one of the most significant steps that you can take to manage pain at night and sleep better after hernia surgery.

Postoperative pain control is a concern for all people after being discharged from the hospital. 

Mild to moderate pain up to two weeks after your hernia surgery is normal until your incision is completely healed. 

Pain is typically more severe in open hernia repair than laparoscopic or robotic surgery. 

However, it’s not necessary to suffer in silence until recovery.

Unrelieved pain may prevent you from falling asleep, curtail deep sleep, or wake you up earlier from sleep.  

The sleep deficit can also add up to culminate in severe fatigue and prolonged recovery time.   

In most cases, you have probably been prescribed pain killers at discharge.

It is best to continue short term analgesics round the clock in these initial few days.

You should also stick to the pain medicine schedule and not wait until pain begins to take the tablet.

If you have pain in between, over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen may also be used to help lessen the pain from your hernia surgery. 

To avoid potential side effects, discuss these options with your surgeon or primary health provider prior to discharge.

You may also use alternate pain relieving techniques such as acupuncture and bioelectric therapy to supplement these medicines. 

If the pain is severe despite medications – or if the nature of pain changes over the course of two weeks – consider revisiting the surgeon to ensure that the incision is healing well and there is no superadded infection or other complications.

When pain is well-controlled, in addition to better sleep, you will also experience better mobility and can get back to your daily routine earlier.

You are also less likely to experience post-surgical complications such as deep venous thrombosis or pneumonia.

4: Control Other Conditions That Can Affect Sleep

Coughing, night time waking due to urination, restless leg syndrome, and pre-existing sleep disorders like insomnia can make it harder to get to and stay asleep after your hernia surgery.

Here’s how to combat these conditions after your hernia surgery to help you get a better night’s sleep:

i) Use Medication or Chest Physiotherapy to Stop Painful Coughing

Coughing is actually a protective reflex that aids in removing secretions from the respiratory tract. 

However, intractable coughing is a menace – especially after hernia surgery.

This is because coughing increases the intraabdominal pressure and can cause dehiscence (splitting) at the surgical site.

Coughing also increases pain due to stretching or disruption of sutures and delays healing.  

If problematic, the use of cough suppressants and chest physiotherapy is recommended.  

Also, remember to apply pressure on the surgical site with a pillow when you cough.

ii) Reduce Fluid Intake and Take Medicine to Limit Night Time Waking Due to Urination

Urinary disturbance in the form of frequent urination and urgency is a symptom of diabetes and enlarged prostate.  

The recurrent need to urinate may disturb the maintenance phase of sleep. 

Furthermore, the need to get out of bed frequently may also disrupt the sutures. 

These symptoms, if present, should be adequately addressed using medicines.  

Limiting fluid intake after 6 P.M in the evening is also useful. 

If these symptoms persist in spite of using medicines, keep a bedpan handy.

iii) Talk to Your Doctor About Managing Abnormal Sensory Symptoms

Paresthesia and restless leg syndrome may manifest as abnormal sensations such as tingling, pricking, burning, or numbness in your limbs.

These symptoms may make it difficult for you to lie down in a specific posture for a long period of time. 

Consequent tossing and turning in bed may stretch or disrupt your sutures and increase the pain from your hernia surgery.

There are dozens of possible underlying causes for paraesthesia and the management is symptom-specific.

Therefore, you should talk to your doctor to find out the best type of treatment for your specific condition and symptoms.

iv) Medically Manage Neuropsychiatric Symptoms

Neuropsychiatric conditions are often associated with insomnia, hypersomnia, nightmares, or circadian dysregulation.

They may also increase the psychomotor activity and cause difficulty in falling asleep.  

The stress of your hernia surgery may accentuate these symptoms.  

In which case, you can request a short course of anti-anxiety medicines or sleeping pills from your primary care provider.

5: Follow a Personalized Sleep Hygiene Routine

Maintenance of a sleep-promoting bedroom environment and daily routines constitute good sleep hygiene that can help you to sleep better after hernia surgery.

The exact steps to be taken are person-specific and have to be tailor-made based on each person’s needs.

In the immediate post-operative period, the effects of anesthesia, stress hormones, loud monitoring devices, bright lighting, and other conditions may have taken a toll on your sleep cycle.  

Below are 3 simple measures that you can follow to bring your sleep cycle back to normal:  

i) Stick to a Pre-Defined Sleep Schedule

Following a tight sleep schedule can help you achieve a rhythm of consistent sleep very quickly after hernia surgery when combined with the other steps in this guide. 

You should have a fixed time to wake-up – regardless of whether it’s a weekday or a weekend.  

Work at a relaxed pace during the initial days after your hernia surgery and avoid any stressful work or hard, physical labor.  

Do not skip or postpone sleep for any work or leisure activity.

If you cannot give up your evening siesta, keep your naps short and preferable early in the afternoon (before 5 P.M.).  

If you find your sleep cycle to be completely out of rhythm, make only gradual changes of a few minutes to hours until you settle into your desired schedule.

ii) Do the Same Relaxing or Boring Things Before Bed Each Night

The importance of a regular nightly routine cannot be over-emphasized in order to help you wind down before bed and help you get to sleep faster after your hernia surgery.

A series of monotonous and/or relaxing pre-sleep tasks repeated daily can condition your brain to anticipate sleep.

Once conditioned, following these activities’ simple routines can signal to the brain that it’s sleep time. 

These activities can be as mundane as brushing your teeth, taking a warm bath (mind the bandages), or putting on your comfortable pajamas.   

To wind down to sleep: dim your lights, listen to soft music or read a book, or even try relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or controlled breathing.

Stay away from all kinds of electronic devices like cell phones, tablets, and laptops.

These appliances will not only excite your brain but also give off blue light which can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps facilitates sleep.

Click here for 12 thought and relaxation strategies to help you fall asleep faster.

iii) Create a Relaxing Bedroom Ambiance

You should arrange your bedroom in a way to help promote a calming and relaxing ambiance to help you fall asleep faster after your hernia surgery.

For example, doctors recommend that you adjust the temperature of your bedroom to 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius) to help facilitate sleep.

Block out the outside light using heavy curtains or use an eye mask and avoid bright nightlights.  

Use earplugs to block out sounds or alternatively drown them using a white noise generator.

You should also choose a mattress and pillow that’s well suited to your dominant sleeping position, body weight, and physical characteristics.

Click here to find the right mattress for your sleeping needs.

6: Gradually Resume Gentle Activities

Whilst you should avoid strenuous activities after your hernia surgery, you should also look to begin gentle exercise as soon as your doctor deems it to be safe.

After surgery, you may not want to resume normal activities either due to fatigue or out of fear of disrupting your sutures.

Whilst you are partially correct, avoiding activities completely is extremely detrimental to recovery. 

Also know that physical activity is not contraindicated after hernia surgery. 

However, it is better to avoid heavy physical activity such as lifting weights and swimming.

You may opt for light physical activities such as walking outdoors.

A short walk will also improve lung function and prevent deep vein thrombosis.  

Furthermore, sunlight can reinforce a healthy circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality.

7: Avoid Stimulants That Can Disrupt Sleep

Stimulants like nicotine, alcohol, coffee, tea, and caffeinated beverages can ramp up your brain activity and make it harder to get to sleep after your hernia surgery.

Avoiding stimulants entirely is the best strategy for better sleep quality after surgery and in general.

Nicotine (in cigarettes) is known to affect sleep quality by keeping your brain active for a long period of time after your last smoke.  

Furthermore, nicotine also contributes to the development of sleep apnea and other respiratory illnesses.

There are no benefits to smoking.

You may as well use this opportunity to break this habit for good.  

Alcoholic nightcaps are often used by people to help them fall asleep.

Whilst alcohol may help you fall asleep easily, it can decrease the depth and maintenance stages of sleep.  

It is best if you avoid or decrease alcohol intake, especially in the evenings.    

Coffee, tea, and caffeinated drinks keep your brain buzzing even when you want to sleep.

Avoid these beverages in the afternoon and evening.

Click here to find out how to get to sleep after drinking an energy drink or too much caffeine.

8: Avoid Foods That Cause Constipation

After hernia repair, you are allowed to resume a normal diet.

But you should avoid food items that cause constipation such as spicy foods, red meat, gluten, and dairy products because this can increase intraabdominal pressure during bowel movements which can place strain upon the surgery area.

Drink at least four glasses of water daily and add light physical activity into your schedule to decrease constipation.

Also, add generous portions of green, leafy vegetables to add fiber to your diet.  

If you still have constipation, avoid straining at all costs.

Instead, use mild laxatives such as Psyllium or Docusate.

Also, avoid dining or snacking late at night to get good sleep. 

Eating this close to sleeping time can cause indigestion and acidity and wake you up in the middle of the night – preventing you from falling asleep again.

Manage Pain and Prioritize Healing

Sleep is extremely important for healing after your hernia surgery.

Taking pain medications, sleeping at an inclined angle, and getting in and out of bed properly are the most significant steps that you can take just after having a hernia operation to help facilitate restful sleep and aid with recovery.

Click the button below to learn more about buying an adjustable bed that can help with alleviating pain after your hernia surgery and managing other conditions like back pain at night.

Sources and References

PubMed – Improve Postoperative Sleep: What Can We Do? Accessed 18/01/2020

NCBI – Inguinal Hernia. Accessed 18/01/2020

WebMD – What is a Wedge Pillow? Accessed 18/01/2020

HealthLine – Over-the-Counter and Prescription Constipation Medications. Accessed 18/01/2020

Medical Disclaimer

Although this article was written by a qualified doctor, no part of this article or website is intended to provide medical advice – please consult with a qualified professional for guidance that’s specific to your issue for the best course of action after your hernia surgery.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Sleeping in Bed’ by Bowie15 (Getty Images) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.