- This article has been written and researched by Ana Luiza (sleep scientist, psychobiologist, biotechnologist, Ph.D) to ensure the highest content quality.
Trying to get to sleep with broken ribs in your back can be very difficult because the position of this injury typically results in great pain when lying down.
I have personally broken my ribs (and torn the intercostal muscles) on two occasions and sleep was almost impossible for the first week of recovery.
So how do you get to sleep with broken ribs?
The best way to get to sleep with broken ribs in your back is to take doctor-prescribed pain medications to lessen the pain, and sleep in an adjustable bed or recliner to take the pressure off the injury site and make getting in and out of bed easier and less uncomfortable.
The rest of this article reveals 10 specific strategies that you can use to get a better night’s rest when you have broken ribs.
This article has been written by a medical researcher to ensure maximum factual accuracy, but you should always consult with your own doctor to get the best treatment plan for you.
Need an adjustable bed? Check out the best adjustable beds to buy here if you want to buy a bed that can help manage various types of pain (especially back and rib pain) and combat snoring, acid reflux, and GERD symptoms.
10 Ways to Sleep With Broken Ribs in Your Back
Sleeping with broken ribs in your back can be challenging because rib fractures can cause a lot of pain that can keep you up at night.
You may also experience limitations in your movements and even in your breathing.
Furthermore, not being able to do the things you used to – at least for a few weeks – can make you stressed and anxious.
This type of stress can worsen your sleep problems.
In turn, being sleep deprived can worsen your pain, and so on.
To put your sleep routine in order, you should start by managing the source of the problem – the broken ribs themselves – before looking at managing the peripheral aspects like good sleep hygiene and relaxation strategies.
There is no consensus or guidelines in the medical or scientific literature on how to sleep with broken ribs in the back.
However, the following 10 tips may be helpful to help you get to sleep when you have broken ribs in your back:
1: Take Doctor Prescribed Pain Medication
One of the main complaints people have when trying to sleep with broken ribs is that the pain gets worse when trying to breathe lying down.
In which case, a doctor can prescribe medication to alleviate the pain, which will probably be enough to help you sleep better.
Usually, your doctor will prescribe pain medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
But if the pain persists, they may prescribe a nerve block – which is an injection of anesthetic medication around a nerve.
This medication blocks the pain sensation traveling through the nerve, relieving the pain from rib fractures.
Once you’re rid of the pain, you’ll be able to breathe better, and this will ultimately help you sleep better too.
2: Sleep in an Adjustable Bed for Better Mobility
An adjustable bed allows you to elevate the upper portion of the bed to make it easier and less painful to sit up and lie down when you have broken ribs in your back.
More advanced adjustable beds that allow you to elevate the foot section and/or assume the ‘zero-gravity’ position can help you to sleep better when you have broken ribs because they can distribute your body weight more evenly so that the pressure is moved away from your damaged bones for greater comfort.
Buying an adjustable bed is a great long term investment if you have conditions like back pain, acid reflux, GERD, sciatica, or simply want to stop snoring because research has shown that elevating the upper portion of the bed can significantly reduce the symptoms of these conditions that may otherwise stop you from getting to sleep.
3: Ice the Affected Area to Reduce Swelling
Wrap a pack of ice in a cloth and apply it into the affected rib area (about 20 minutes each hour).
The ice will help reduce the swelling, and it will cause temporary numbness that alleviates the pain.
You can do this before going to bed so that the pain does not prevent you from sleeping.
4: Create a Calming Sleep Environment
Creating a calming sleep environment that promotes physical comfort and mental relaxation can help you to sleep better when you have broken ribs.
Use clean, soft pillows and bedding, a comfortable mattress, and maintain a room temperature of 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius).
Preferably, avoid leaving the TV on or any other source of noise – listen to calming music with your earphones on instead before bed.
Avoid too much screen time just before going to bed since the blue light that’s emitted from these devices can suppress the production of melatonin in your body – the hormone that helps you get to sleep.
Applying these tips will make a big difference to your sleep quality and help you to get to sleep with broken ribs in your back.
5: Maintain a Sleep Schedule to Set Your Body Clock
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help to set your internal body clock so that you feel sleepy at the same time each night and make dropping off easier – even when you have broken ribs in your back.
To do this, go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, avoid stimulating drinks before bed (do this if you consume caffeine too close to bedtime), only eat a light snack a few hours before bed (simple carbs like honey can aid with sleep too), and avoid using your cell phone and computer too close to bedtime.
Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Because a lack of sleep can affect your mood and can cause anxiety and depression disorders.
Whilst being stressed negatively affects your quality of sleep.
Lack of sleep also affects the functioning of the immune system.
Research shows that the healing process takes longer in sleep-deprived individuals.
Therefore, it’s vital to do everything possible to sleep at least 7 to 8 hours a night by maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
6: Sleep in the Most Comfortable Position for You
There is no correct position to sleep with broken ribs in your back.
The best thing is to find the position that is most comfortable for you.
Pick the one where you feel less pain and where it’s easier for you to breathe.
Some people may prefer sleeping in a recliner rather than in a bed.
Choose whichever fits you best.
You can also use pillows or cushions to help limit your movements during the night if you want to stay in the same sleeping position.
This may help you feel more secure and avoid pain.
7: Eat Healthy to Speed Up Recovery
Eating a diet that’s nourishing can help your body to recover faster so that you don’t have to endure trying to get to sleep with broken ribs for as long.
More specifically, your immune system needs to be well-nourished to perform its role properly.
A balanced diet can make a big difference in your healing process.
When you’re injured, you must consume enough protein, vitamins, and minerals to help build and maintain new tissues.
This is what you should eat every day when you have broken ribs to help speed up recovery:
- 5 portions of whole grains (whole bread, cereal, pasta).
- 3-5 portions of vegetables.
- 3-5 portions of fruits.
- Lean protein (fish, meat, chicken, eggs, beans, peanut pasta, tofu).
- Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese).
Eating dairy foods is especially important because it contains calcium, a mineral involved in building bones.
You can also get calcium from salmon, tuna, broccoli, and kale.
Vitamin D should also make up part of your diet since it helps your blood take in and use calcium and build up the minerals in your bones.
You can get vitamin D from egg yolks and fatty fish.
Exposing yourself to the sunlight is vital to absorb vitamin D correctly.
Vitamin C is another essential vitamin for bone healing; it participates in collagen synthesis, one of our bone’s components.
You can get vitamin C from many fresh fruits and veggies.
Make sure you also eat food rich in iron and potassium.
Iron is essential for the health of our red blood cells, while potassium can reduce calcium loss from the bones.
Some people can’t get all of the nutrients through food, and they may need supplementation.
Check with your doctor for the best options for you.
8: Be Physically Active to Boost Recovery
It’s normal to be debilitated and want to rest when you have broken ribs.
However, spending the whole day in bed can be bad for your sleep and your recovery.
Physical activity can improve your quality of life and help your immune system function better to help boost your recovery so that you’re spending less time trying to sleep with painful broken ribs.
If your doctor allows it, do a few minutes of light physical activity, such as a slow walk around the house when you feel able to help keep you active during the day.
9: Breathe Deeply to Aid With Healing
The sooner you heal, the sooner you can go back to sleep all night.
Deep breathing exercises can help you with this, as they help eliminate lung secretions and prevent complications like pneumonia.
10: Try Meditation to Calm Your Mind and Reduce Pain
In addition to the pain of the injury itself, research shows that the emotional impact is also a reason why people with broken bones can’t sleep well.
Therefore, it’s worth taking steps to reduce stress.
One option is to practice mindfulness-based meditation.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR), defines mindfulness as: “the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.”
The practice focuses on the breath and cultivating the body’s attention and mind in the present moment.
Mindfulness is about accepting the nature of the sensations, both good and bad, and that they will not last forever.
It also helps you change your behavior in the face of pain and unwanted situations by accepting what life offers you.
Several scientific studies show that mindfulness-based programs can help treat anxiety and depression.
The main benefits of mindfulness meditation are:
- Reduced anxiety.
- Better mood.
- Better control of your emotions.
- More patience.
- Improvement in depressive symptoms.
- More self-confidence.
- Improved cognition.
- Improved attention.
If you want to start practicing mindfulness, seek specialized and certified professionals to help you through the process.
There are also online courses, apps, audios, and videos available for free on the internet.
If you want to try a mindfulness meditation right now then put in your earphones and listen to the guided meditation video below:
Guide to Sleeping With Broken Ribs in Your Back
Below is a full guide that explains how having broken ribs in your back can affect your sleep:
Your Ribs Protect Your Internal Organs
Your ribs are a set of 12 pairs of narrow, curved strips of bone and cartilage that attaches to your vertebrae and breastbone (sternum) – together they form the ribcage.
The first seven pairs that attach to the breastbone are the right ribs.
The following are known as false ribs because they connect to the 7th rib by cartilage.
The 11th and 12th are the floating ribs.
These ribs are smaller than the others and do not attach at the front of the ribcage, only to the vertebrae in the back.
The ribs’ central role is to protect your internal organs, such as your heart and lungs.
They also accommodate the lung’s movements during breathing and provide support to your muscles.
Broken Ribs Can Have Several Causes
Our ribs contain four regions: posterior (in your back), posterolateral and anterolateral (on the side of your body), and anterior (in the front of your body).
So, having a broken rib in your back means that the fracture is within the posterior part of your body.
Broken ribs in the back are often unstable but minimally displaced due to the surrounding soft tissue attachments and support.
Below are some of the most common causes of broken ribs:
- A blow to the chest or back.
- Repetitive trauma.
- Penetrating injuries.
- Severe cough.
The following factors can increase the risk of breaking a rib:
- Osteoporosis – this condition decreases your bone density, making the bones more susceptible to bone fractures.
- Cancer – cancerous lesions can weaken your bones and cause fractures.
- Lifestyle – playing contact sports like hockey or football increases the risk of chest trauma.
Pain is the Most Common Sign of Broken Ribs
If you’ve ever had a rib fracture, you’ll know that it can be quite painful, especially when you cough, sneeze, or breathe deeply.
Rib fractures also hurt when you move or twist your upper body.
The pain can last for several weeks.
The affected region can become tender or swollen, and sometimes, you can even hear a crack over the affected rib as the fracture segment moves.
Usually, broken ribs in the back hurt less than in the chest.
This is because your posterior ribs move less when you’re breathing.
However, the pain can be worse when you lie down.
Broken Ribs Are Diagnosed Through a Physical Exam
Your doctor will do a physical exam to assess the severity of your broken ribs.
Palpation of the chest wall is useful to identify rib fractures in patients with minor traumas.
The doctor might also listen to your lungs and watch your rib cage move as you breathe.
A chest x-ray may be performed to check for further injuries in your lungs.
This exam may not identify all rib fractures, so depending on the situation, you may need complementary exams.
Other tests that can help to identify concomitant injuries are:
- CT scan – a CT scan takes X-rays from various angles and combines them to form images of your body’s internal structures. This test can identify additional rib fractures and blood vessels and soft tissue injuries.
- MRI – the MRI uses magnet and radio waves to produce images. This test identifies damages to soft tissues and organs around the broken rib. It can also show more subtle fractures.
- Bone scan – to do this test, a healthcare professional will inject a small amount of radioactive material into your bloodstream. This material collects in the bones and can be detected using a scanner.
- Ultrasound – is more sensitive than radiography for rib fracture detection in blunt trauma and can identify cartilage fractures and lung injuries.
Complications Are Rare But Possible
Usually, an isolated broken rib won’t cause complications.
However, some people may stop breathing deeply to avoid the pain.
This practice can cause pneumonia, especially in older people or patients with multiple fractures.
Because of that, older people are more at risk of dying due to rib fractures than young people.
Sometimes, broken ribs can harm your blood vessels and internal organs.
The consequences vary depending on the type, local, and the number of ribs broken.
A sharp end of a broken rib can cause:
- A rupture of the aorta or another blood vessel.
- A puncture of internal organs like lungs, spleen, liver, or kidneys.
Injuries to the aorta are a rare but life-threatening consequence of posterior rib fractures.
This type of lesion is associated with an increase in mortality.
As shown in case studies, posterior rib fractures must be evaluated carefully.
Early recognition of a flail chest (a condition in which two or more ribs become detached from the rest of the ribcage) is essential in the prevention of aortic injuries with surgical interventions or fracture stabilization.
Broken Ribs Are Treated in Several Ways
Your doctor will likely treat your broken ribs with a combination of the following methods:
i) Pain Medications
It may be necessary to take pain killers and other medications to reduce inflammation.
If the pain is too severe, the doctor may prescribe injections that block the fracture’s surrounding nerves for long-lasting pain control.
ii) Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are essential to help you breathe deeply since shallow breathing can cause pneumonia.
iii) Pulmonary Hygiene
Pulmonary hygiene methods are used to clear mucus and secretions from the airways.
This ensures your lungs get enough oxygen during respiration.
It includes deep breathing exercises, frequent coughing, suctioning of the secretions using a thin tube, and chest physiotherapy using vibration and percussion movements that help break up thick secretions in the lungs.
Immobilization is usually not recommended because it limits deep breathing, which can cause complications.
However, it may be indicated in some cases.
The most severe cases may require hospitalization, and in some cases, surgical intervention.
A rib fixation surgery can help prevent complications and restore the chest wall’s natural shape and function.
The surgeon uses titanium plates to stabilize fractured ribs while they heal and hold the ribs in their correct anatomic location.
Possible indications for surgery are:
- The presence of more than 3 rib fractures.
- Ventilator-dependent patients.
- Rib displacement or flail chest.
Broken Ribs Take Around 6 Weeks to Heal
Most broken ribs heal on their own within six weeks.
The treatment usually involves managing the pain and any possible complications.
Pain From Broken Ribs Can Impact Sleep Quality
Broken ribs can cause pain and limit your movements and breathing, negatively impacting your sleep quality.
In one study, the researchers asked patients who had a single rib fracture to self-evaluate their sleep quality using a scale-based questionnaire (NRS 0-10).
A score of 0 indicates perfect sleep quality, and 10 indicates interrupted sleep by pain.
The patients gave their sleep a score of 4, indicating sleep disturbance.
Patients with multiple rib fractures also report having poor sleep quality due to intense pain.
In addition to the pain when you move or breathe, all the discomfort caused by the broken ribs can make you anxious, worried, or stressed.
These mood swings can also keep awake at night.
Sleep and stress are two things that don’t go well together – try these 12 techniques to calm your mind and body.
Conclusion: Try Pain Meds and an Adjustable Bed
The two most effective ways to get to sleep with broken ribs in your back are to take doctor-prescribed pain medications so that you can relax, and sleeping in an adjustable bed to help alleviate the pain whilst also making it easier to get in and out of bed.
Other complementary techniques that you can try include: icing the affected area to reduce painful swelling, creating a relaxing sleeping environment to make it easier to drift off, sticking to a regular sleep schedule to initiate sleep at the same time each night, sleeping in a comfortable position, eating healthy to aid recovery, staying mobile during the day, breathing deeply to avoid complications, and doing meditation to calm your mind and body.
Always talk to your doctor first to find the best treatment plan for you.
If you decide that an adjustable bed is the right investment to help you sleep better with broken ribs, then click the button below to see the best ones to buy now.
Sources and References
(1) Medscape. Pain Relievers [Internet]. 2021. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/painrelievers.html#:~:text=There are two main types,are examples of OTC NSAIDs.
(2) Plus M. Bruised rib care [Internet]. 2019. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000967.htm
(3) Orzeł-Gryglewska J. Consequences of sleep deprivation. Vol. 23, International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health. Orzeł-Gryglewska, Jolanta: Department of Animal Physiology, University of Gdansk, Kladki 24, Gdansk, Poland, 80-822, firstname.lastname@example.org: Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine; 2010. p. 95–114.
(4) Feldman KW. Rib fractures: elusive, but important. Lancet Child Adolesc Heal. 2018;2(11):769–70.
(5) Johnson K, Derauf DC, Stetson R, Galardy P, Homme J. Keeping an Open Mind: Cognitive Bias in the Evaluation of an Infant with Posterior-Lateral Rib Fractures. Singer G, editor. Case Rep Pediatr [Internet]. 2017;2017:5163094. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/cripe/2017/5163094/
(6) Britannica TE of E. “Rib”. Encyclopedia Britannica [Internet]. 2019. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/science/rib-bone
(7) Manuals M. Rib Fracture [Internet]. 2020. Available from: https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/rib-fracture?query=Rib Fractures
(8) Clinic M. Broken ribs [Internet]. 2021. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-ribs/symptoms-causes/syc-20350763#:~:text=Broken%20ribs%20are%20most%20commonly,from%20severe%20and%20prolonged%20coughing.
(9) Boyles AD, Taylor BC, Ferrel JR. Posterior rib fractures as a cause of delayed aortic injury: a case series and literature review. Inj Extra. 2013;44(5):43–5.
(10) Kocher GJ, Al-Hurani M, Minervini F. Surgical fixation of rib fractures: how I do it. J Vis Surgery; Vol 6 (April 2020) J Vis Surg [Internet]. 2019; Available from: https://jovs.amegroups.com/article/view/32600
(11) Lei M, Guo C, Wang Y, Hua L, Xue S, Yu D, et al. Oral administration of probiotic’Lactobacillus casei Shirota’relieves pain after single rib fracture: A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2018;27(6):1252.
(12) Abdelrahman AMF, Omara AFAS, Elzohry AAM. Safety and Efficacy of Oral Melatonin When Combined with Thoracic Epidural Analgesia in Patients with Bilateral Multiple Fracture Ribs. Local Reg Anesth. 2020;13:21.
(13) Harvard Health Publishing. Understanding the stress response [Internet]. 2021. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
(14) Clinic M. Nutrition Guidelines to Improve Wound Healing [Internet]. 2017. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11111-nutrition-guidelines-to-improve-wound-healing
(15) Mathur S, Sharma MP, Balachander S, Kandavel T, Reddy YJ. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy vs stress management training for obsessive-compulsive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2020 Dec;282:58–68.
(16) Patel RA, Wilson RF, Patel PA, Palmer RM. The effect of smoking on bone healing: A systematic review. Bone Joint Res [Internet]. 2013 Jun 14;2(6):102–11. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23836474
No part of this website or article offers medical advice – always talk to a qualified medical professional to find the best treatment plan for your condition.
Image Attribution and Licencing
Main image: ‘Man With Back Pain in Bed Feeling Pain’ by tommaso79 (Getty Images) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.
Dan is the founder and head content creator at Bedroom Style Reviews.
He has been working as a professional online product reviewer since 2015 and was inspired to start this website when he ended up sleeping on a memory foam mattress that was too soft and gave him backache.
Through in-depth research and analysis, Dan’s goal with this website is to help others avoid such pitfalls by creating the best online resource for helping you find your ideal mattress, bedding, and bedroom furniture.
Dan is a qualified NVQ Level 2 Fitness Instructor with 6 years’ experience helping clients improve their health through diet, exercise, and proper sleep hygiene.
He also holds several college and university-level qualifications in health sciences, psychology, mathematics, art, and digital media creation – which helps him to publish well researched and informative product reviews as well as articles on sleep, health, wellbeing, and home decor.
Dan also has direct personal experience with insomnia, anxiety, misophonia (hypersensitivity to sounds), and pain from both acute and long-standing sporting injuries – he enjoys writing insightful articles around these subjects to help fellow sufferers of such conditions.
Learn more about Dan here.