7 Ways to Cope With Insomnia After Surgery

  • young woman looking through the hospital window.
    When Sleep Is Hard to Come By
    Recovering from surgery is anything but restful. For some, it can result in insomnia, whether it’s from side effects of medication, pain or discomfort, or just the stress and anxiety of undergoing surgery. Lack of sleep, in turn can often affect recovery, causing an increased sensitivity to pain, a higher risk of delirium or more cardiovascular events. The good news is there are many things you can do to help improve sleep and bounce back from surgery a bit quicker.
  • Senior Male Patient Laid Down Resting In Hospital Bed
    1. Do some deep breathing.
    Deep breathing exercises can be effective in allowing both mind and body to relax. By focusing on your breath, it can help take your mind off any pain or discomfort that’s keeping you from sleep. Start with a deep inhale through your nose, counting slowly to four on the inhale. Hold the breath for another four seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth on a count of six. Repeat as often as necessary. If you find it’s not working, try going slower.
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    2. Try progressive muscle relaxation.
    Progressive muscle relaxation can also help with postoperative insomnia by putting your body in a more relaxed state. The idea is to gently tense and then relax each part of the body. Start with your feet, and slowly work your way up the body, tensing and relaxing each set of muscles, to your shoulders and neck. Repeat the process until you feel yourself begin to let go and relax.
  • Male Nurse Talking With Female Patient In Hospital Room
    3. Adjust your medicine.
    No matter what type of surgery you had, it’s natural to have some degree of pain or discomfort. If you take pain medicine, schedule it around 30 minutes before bedtime, if possible, to help you get comfortable and catch some much-needed shut-eye. There are also medications that have proven effective in promoting sleep after surgery, including zolpidem, melatonin and dexmedetomidine. Ask your doctor if any of these is right for you.
  • Nurse tending patient in intensive care uni
    4. Consider your environment.
    Studies show that for patients admitted to the ICU after surgery, changes to the environment are helpful in improving sleep quality and sleep efficiency. These include maintaining a quiet and dim environment, and decreasing interruptions from care activities at night. The use of earplugs and an eye mask also help promote sleep. Talk with your care team about making any necessary adjustments to your sleep setting.
  • closeup of hand feeling water pouring from removable shower head
    5. Take a shower or bath, or listen to music.
    Sometimes the simplest things can be ultra-soothing and bring us comfort. Try a relaxing shower (or bath if permitted) to wind down. The warm water can also help ease any pain that may be keeping you from a good night’s rest. Or try listening to relaxing music or a guided imagery audio program to help you drift off to sleep.
  • Female Caucasian doctor talking to male Caucasian patient out of focus
    6. Share your concerns.
    Recovering from surgery, or simply being in a hospital, is enough to make anyone nervous or anxious. It can also lead to additional worries—about finances, disrupted career plans, caregiving needs, or a potential change in lifestyle. But you don’t have to face these alone. Get your troubles off your mind by talking to a loved one or a trusted friend. If you’re in the hospital, you can also ask to speak to a counselor, social worker, chaplain or behavioral health specialist on duty.
  • male-patient-at-doctors-appointment
    7. Talk to your doctor.
    If you still find yourself struggling with insomnia, or if your normal sleep patterns don’t return after a few weeks, talk with your doctor about other treatment options. Also, let your doctor know if lack of sleep is causing any changes in your behavior or other problems in your life.
7 Ways to Cope With Insomnia After Surgery | Postoperative Insomnia

About The Author

Susan Fishman, NCC, CRC is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in health education, and a knack for turning complex medical jargon into something the average reader can understand. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and HuffPost, and on numerous other national health, wellness and parenting sites. She is also a National Certified Counselor and Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, adding mental health and wellness to her area of expertise.
  1. Improve postoperative sleep: what can we do? US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768217/
  2. Surgery and Insomnia. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/4937-surgery-and-insomnia
  3. 3 Ways Surgery Impacts Your Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep.org. https://www.sleep.org/articles/3-ways-surgery-impacts-your-sleep/
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 May 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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