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How to Sleep With a Fractured Pelvis (9 Ways)

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  • This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Dimitar Marinov (M.D, Ph.D, RDN) to ensure maximum factual accuracy and reliability.

A pelvic fracture is an injury to the bones that connect your spine to the thigh bones.

Pelvic fractures are not very common but could be minor or severe.

Most of these fractures are due to road traffic accidents, falls from heights, or high-impact sporting activities.

Recovery from severe pelvic fractures usually needs 6 -12 months of rest.

After surgery, the patient is expected to avoid lifting heavy objects and get as much bed rest as possible.

It is, however, difficult to get good sleep with a broken pelvis and for several weeks after pelvic surgery – with the main cause of sleep disturbance being the pain resulting from the injury.

So what is the best way to improve sleep with a broken pelvis or after pelvic surgery?

The best way to get to sleep with a broken pelvis is to combine doctor prescribed pain and sleep medication, sleep on your back to speed up healing, use support pillows to improve posture and reduce pain, practice good sleep hygiene, eliminate sleep disruptors, and try alternative therapies.

This article describes 9 ways that you can improve sleep quality, reduce pain, and speed up recovery after a pelvic fracture.

Several recommended practices for improving sleep in individuals without injury also apply to those with a pelvic fracture.

These measures become more essential in this condition since sleep and bed rest are vital for quick recovery.

The effects of some of these measures may be limited when used in isolation.

It is therefore advisable to combine as many of the recommended practices as possible to obtain the best results in terms of improved sleep.

Always talk to your doctor or a qualified medical professional before applying the tips in this article.

Related: 12 effective ways to get to sleep faster when you have insomnia.

9 Ways to Improve Sleep With a Pelvic Fracture

Here are 9 effective measures you can take to get a good night of sleep when you are recovering from a pelvic fracture:

1: Take Prescribed Medication to Reduce the Pain

Take all the pain medication prescribed by your doctor about an hour before bedtime to prevent the pelvic pain from keeping you from falling asleep.

Research has shown that severe pain causes sleep disturbances and also that poor sleep makes you more sensitive to pain.

Many pelvic fractures do not require surgery.

In cases of a minor pelvic fracture, narcotic painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen are usually prescribed.

Adhere strictly to the timing and dosage of these medications to reduce your suffering at night.

Poor pain management will adversely impact the quality and duration of your sleep and also prolong recovery.

Take the NSAIDs just before bedtime to improve your ability to fall asleep by not experiencing severe pain.

If the pain intensity in the early stages of recovery is not well controlled by the doses of the medication, consult your physician or specialist for advice.

Other pain-relieving therapies such as acupuncture, hypnosis, and aquatherapy are available but should be employed only after consultation with your physician.

Effective pain management in cases of pelvic fracture is critical for achieving the quantity and quality of sleep you require for quick recovery.

2: Take Prescribed Sleep Medication

Although there is inconclusive evidence regarding the effectiveness of medication in improving the quality or duration of sleep after physical injury and during recovery, a few drugs are being used for this purpose:

  • Zolpidem: This medication has been reported to improve sleep quality in patients with an orthopedic injury but it should only be used for a very limited period of time under strict medical supervision due to the potential for addiction.
  • Melatonin: This medication is more widely known and is available over the counter in the US (but harder to get in places like the UK). It regulates sleep and wakefulness cycles. Patients have reported that it improves sleep quality without any major side effects.
  • Dexmedetomidine: This drug induces sleep and reduces pain. In patients who had undergone surgery, it prolonged the duration of sleep and improved sleep quality.

These sleep medications should be prescribed only by your physician or a specialist.

3: Sleep On Your Back to Speed Up Healing

Sleeping on your back is recommended for preventing further damage to the pelvis and speeding up healing.

This sleeping posture reduces pressure on the pelvis while keeping your spine and hips in correct alignment.

Other benefits include easing tension headaches, reducing spinal compression, and relieving sinus buildup.

Here are three tips that you can use to create a habit of sleeping on your back:

3.1: Invest in a Medium-Firm Mattress

Medium-firm mattresses provide the ideal balance of cushioning comfort and firm support.

This kind of mattress is designed to evenly cushion your torso, hips, and lower back – thereby providing support and proper alignment of the spine.

Pick from some of the best medium-firm mattresses for back and hip pain here.

3.2: Get the Right Kind of Pillow for Your Neck

Avoid pillows that over-elevate your head causing prolonged hyper-extension of the neck.

This causes muscle strain on your neck and shoulders, tension headaches, and poor sleep quality.

Invest in a wedge pillow that lifts the head by no more than 4-6 inches.

3.3: Spread Your Arms and Legs While Sleeping

You should sleep with your arms and legs spread out while sleeping on your back.

This ensures you are distributing your body weight evenly over the bed and not placing too much pressure on your hips and pelvis.

Sleeping this way is possible if you do not share your bed with a partner.

Sharing your bed is not recommended during recovery from pelvic fractures.

4: Sleep With Support Pillows to Reduce Pain

Pillows help to improve sleep for patients with pelvic fractures.

There are a wide variety of affordable pillows available in the market and these can be used in different ways to achieve the support and comfort needed to guarantee a night of sleep with less pain triggered by poor posture.

Here are some ways to use pillows to help improve sleep when you have a fractured pelvis:

  • Elevate your knees slightly by using a pillow under your legs. Sleeping this way reduces the load on the spine and the curve on your back alleviating back strain. Special half-moon knee support pillows have been developed and can be purchased at low cost.
  • Build a support fortress with pillows. When placed on either side of you, the pillows will serve as boundaries and limit the tendency to turn on your side.

A drawback to sleeping with pillows is the ease with which these may shift out of position during the night causing you to change sleep posture and straining the pelvis.

5: Reduce Fluid Intake Before Bedtime to Prevent Getting Up

The need to get up from your bed to use the bathroom during the night will be frequent if too much liquid is consumed within 2 hours of bedtime.

Some common beverages are diuretics and can interfere with sleep.

Alcohol can affect sleep quality by disrupting critical phases of sleep.

It is recommended that recovering orthopedic patients such as those with a broken pelvis avoid alcohol before bedtime.

Coffee is another beverage that impairs your ability to fall and remain asleep.

Caffeine, which is the stimulant in coffee, remains in circulation for many hours and therefore can affect sleep even when consumed earlier in the day (here are 6 ways to get to sleep after consuming too much caffeine).

Besides, coffee causes frequent visits to the bathroom which should be avoided at nighttime while recovering from a pelvic fracture.

If the injury to the pelvis is severe and getting out of bed to go to the bathroom is very challenging, get a bedpan to use in the room.

Alternatively, buy an adjustable bed frame and mattress to make it easier to get in and out of bed.

6: Develop a Bedtime Routine to Reduce Sleep Latency

Create a nightly routine to follow that will help in getting your body to know when it is time for sleep.

A recommended time window for this routine is an hour before you plan to be asleep.

Start with taking your prescribed pain and sleep medication, switch off all blue light-emitting electronics such as TVs, computers, tablets, and mobile phones, and engage in a quiet activity such as reading or listening to meditative music.

Artificial blue light triggers the brain into wakefulness by altering the natural circadian rhythm that determines the onset of drowsiness and sleep.

Employing this type of good sleep hygiene is also effective in treating OCD thoughts that prevent sleep.

7: Keep the Room Cool to Avoid Waking Up

A slightly lower than normal core body temperature is required during sleep.

Take steps to keep the temperature of your room cool to avoid waking up during the night due to becoming too hot.

Research shows that a room temperature of between 16 (60.8F) and 19 degrees Celsius (66.2F) is optimal for sleeping.

This can be achieved by leaving a window slightly open, keeping a fan turning, using an air conditioner, or turning down the heat in the winter.

In addition to cooling the room, you should avoid using very thick blankets during the night.

These could cause frequent changes to sleep posture in response to the discomfort resulting from the increased heat generated under the blankets.

Also limit the use of electric blankets.

8: Use Complementary Therapies to Improve Sleep Quality

Research shows that a range of therapies such as aromatherapy, meditation, and music therapy can be effective together in reducing anxiety and improving sleep in patients with painful conditions such as a fractured pelvis, as follows:

8.1: Aromatherapy – Creates a Relaxing Ambiance

You can use a wide range of essential oils to improve sleep.

While there is still some uncertainty about the efficacy of these oils, they could create a pleasant aromatic ambiance in your room which is also great for sleep.

The most commonly used essential oils for better sleep are lavender, chamomile, and valerian.

Essential oils can be used in different ways to help you fall asleep quickly as follows:

• Add the oils to a warm bath before bed.

• Mix the oils with your carrier oils and used in a light massage.

• Mix the oils with water and use as a spritz on your bedding.

• Use a scent diffuser to get the oils into your bedroom air.

8.2: Music Therapy – Can Combat Insomnia

Music therapy is now considered a possible aid to improve sleep quality.

While music, in and of itself, may not induce sleep, it could be an important complement to other therapies aimed at helping people dealing with insomnia.

Music of certain frequencies can reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol.

Music played at a tempo of 60-100 beats per minute seems to be most effective at improving sleep, probably due to being in sync with the normal resting heart rate.

Choose music that is emotionally neutral or instrumental and play it at a low volume.

Music at a high volume may constitute noise and disrupt sleep.

White Noise

Another form of sound therapy is the use of white noise.

White noise comprises sounds from a range of frequencies that are played simultaneously at the same intensity.

It is used to mask other noises and thereby creates a blanket of sound.

It is effective in hospital patients trying to sleep in settings filled with lots of ambient noise.

Devices that produce white noise are available in the market at less than $100.

Binaural Beats

Alternatively, you can listen to slow-wave binaural beats like in the video below (use your earbuds for the best effect):

Improve Quality of Sleep with Slow Wave Delta Brainwaves ~.~ Binaural Beats Brainwave Entertainment

8.3: Meditation – Lowers Cortisol for a Faster Sleep Time

Certain types of meditation can help improve sleep and also serve as a treatment for insomnia.

Practicing mindfulness meditation can improve the quality of your sleep and provide similar benefits as sleep medications.

It induces a relaxation response that lowers cortisol and allows for the onset and maintenance of sleep.

Meditation is learned from constant practice.

You derive more benefit from practicing mindfulness meditation over the long-term.

In mindfulness meditation, you learn to ignore distracting thoughts and focus on what you are sensing or feeling in that moment.

Continuous focusing on your breathing is a common method in this type of meditation.

If you have a pelvic fracture, you should practice this type of relaxation technique before bedtime, and as a complement to other therapies to improve your sleep.

9: Avoid Sleep Disruptors

Here are 6 things to avoid that can disrupt your rest when you’re trying to sleep with a broken pelvis:

9.1: Avoid Random Bedtimes

You should form a habit of going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day.

This reinforces your sleep and wakefulness cycles making it easier to fall and stay asleep every night.

9.2: Avoid Bright Room Lights

Bright room lights suppress melatonin production and thereby disrupt your daily sleep rhythm.

You should turn off all bright room lights 2 to 3 hours before sleep time.

If you use a night light, use a sleep mask to help improve sleep.

Sleep masks are commonly used on airplanes but are just as useful in the home.

They are available at low cost, but can also be found with special features such as comfortable fleece exteriors, gravity-weighted patches to gently push on pressure points, and a sachet pocket for a sleep-friendly fragrance such as lavender.

In the summertime when there are long hours of daylight, make sure your room windows are properly covered and not letting the light in at bedtime – try these 19 ways to make your room pitch black for better sleep.

9.3: Limit Daytime Napping

Daytime napping reduces the level of adenosine in the body.

Adenosine is what triggers and sustains sleep.

You should avoid napping or limit naptime during the day so that you do not impair your ability to fall asleep at night.

9.4: Avoid Sharing Your Bed

If you share your bed with a partner, it could negatively impact your sleep as you recover from a pelvic fracture.

Partners could create noise, or move blankets causing you to wake.

Your need for extra pillows for support as you sleep on your back may not be convenient for your partner and could also affect their sleep.

9.5: Eliminate Noise

To ensure your sleep is not disrupted, you need to eliminate any sources of noise that could prevent you from falling and staying asleep.

Earplugs are a cost-effective and handy way to block out noise emanating from outside your bedroom.

These are available in soft silicone material, comfortable to use, and can reduce noise by as much as 22 decibels.

9.6: Do Not Eat Close To Bedtime

Having a late-night snack before going to bed can significantly disrupt the quality of your sleep.

Foods like sugary cereal, hot peppers, fatty snacks, and high protein meals or shakes can cause indigestion and acid reflux resulting in sleep disruption.

Even a post-dinner bite of chocolate can impair your ability to get a full night of undisturbed sleep due to its hidden caffeine content.

Eat your last meal 3-4 hours before bedtime so that metabolic reactions do not rob you of quality sleep.

Combine Strategies to Sleep Better With Pelvic Pain

To get to sleep with a broken pelvis, try combining several techniques from this list.

For example, you could talk to your doctor about taking both pain and sleep medications, whilst also employing good sleep hygiene and avoiding sleep disruptors.

Up next: 5 ways a mattress can cause hip pain.


Sources and References

[1] Lu K, Barron JO, Israel H, Cannada K. Sleep disturbances in orthopedic trauma patients. OTA International. 2019, 2 (4): e040 https://journals.lww.com/otainternational/Fulltext/2019/12010/Sleep_disturbances_in_orthopaedic_trauma_patients.11.aspx  Accessed 12 February 2021.

[2] Su X, Wang D. Improve postoperative sleep. Current Opinion in Anesthesiology. 2018, 31 (1):83-88 https://journals.lww.com/co-anesthesiology/fulltext/2018/02000/improve_postoperative_sleep__what_can_we_do_.15.asp Accessed 10 February 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

Although this article was written by a Ph.D. with experience in health-related research, none of the information should replace the advice of your doctor or another suitably qualified medical professional.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Painful Hip’ by Eraxion (Getty Images) used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

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