9 Tips for Getting Sleep During a Hospital Stay

  • Breast Cancer Patient having Chemotherapy Treatment in Hospital
    Improve Sleep in the Hospital
    It’s not easy to get a good night’s sleep in the hospital. You don’t feel well, you’re in an unfamiliar environment, and people are in and out of your room at all hours.

    Sleep deprivation in hospitals is a real problem. In fact, studies have shown that patients typically sleep two hours less per day in the hospital than at home. That’s troubling because sleep is essential for healthy functioning of the human body. Lack of sleep can slow healing, increase pain and contribute to the development of confusion. These nine tips can help you get some rest.
  • Smiling female doctor talking to patient and family in hospital ward
    1. Let the light in.
    Our bodies use light to tell time. Our circadian rhythm, or internal clock, is controlled by a part of the brain that responds to light. Exposure to light triggers feelings of wakefulness, while time in the dark signals that it’s time to sleep.

    Allowing natural light into your room during the day will help keep your internal clock ticking along properly, which will make it easier to sleep come nightfall. So, open your blinds during the day (or ask someone to do so for you). Spend time in the sunlight, if possible.
  • A man sleeping in a hospital bed
    2. Bring comfy items from home.
    Want to know how to sleep in a hospital bed? Bring some of your favorite items from home. Your personal pillow will be a big upgrade over hospital pillows, and you’ll probably enjoy the feel of a familiar blanket. (Note: You might not want to bring your favorite. Things tend to get soiled at the hospital.)

    Got a favorite pair of sleep socks? Bring them along. Stuffed animals are welcome as well.
  • Adult son visiting senior father in the hospital
    3. Minimize napping.
    Yes, you need extra rest while you’re recovering. But sleeping throughout the day may interfere with your sleep at night. If at all possible, try to keep naps short—ideally, no longer than 30 minutes. It’s also better to nap in the late morning and early afternoon. Late afternoon and evening naps may disrupt bedtime.

    You might want to consider asking visitors to stop in during the early evening hours. Their company may keep you from drifting off to sleep, which may make it easier to sleep later that night.
  • Nurse helping patient use walker in hospital
    4. Get moving.
    We associate beds with sleep. If you’re lying around all day, you’re prone to excessive napping. Plus, lack of physical activity makes it difficult to sleep at night. Drifting off to sleep is much easier when you are physically tired.

    Of course, you’re not going to be up to running laps. Do what you can. If you’re able, go for walks in the hall. If you’re confined to bed, wiggle and stretch your limbs. Ask your nurse to show you some exercises you can perform safely. You may have the option of physical therapy while you’re in the hospital. Even doing a few exercises with a light resistance band will help.
  • Doctor and nurse talking to patient in hospital
    5. Talk with your healthcare providers.
    Interruptions from healthcare providers are a major reason why patients find it difficult to sleep during a hospital stay. Some interruptions are necessary; after certain types of surgery, nurses have to check your vital signs and wound frequently to assess your condition, for instance. But you can talk with your healthcare providers about your desire for rest. If you are currently receiving medication or breathing treatments in the night, ask your nurse if they can be rescheduled. (The answer might be no, but there’s no harm in asking.)
  • Senior Female Patient Listening To Music While Relaxing On Bed At Hospital
    6. Block the noise.
    Hospitals are noisy places. On top of the hustle, bustle and conversation of staff and visitors, you’ll likely to hear all kinds of beeps and alarms. Most hospitals are working hard to reduce noise levels, but they can’t eliminate noise.

    You can dramatically decrease your nighttime noise exposure by donning a pair of earplugs or noise-canceling headphones at night. White noise is another option. Consider downloading a white noise app and using it throughout the night.
  • Senior woman reading while lying in hospital bed
    7. Relax before bed.
    Most people have some kind of bedtime routine that helps them settle down to sleep. Of course, hospitalization often disrupts your usual routine. You can’t necessarily have your usual before-bed drink—even if your drink of choice is herbal tea—as it might interfere with your treatment.

    Try other activities to relax before bed; good choices include reading or listening to an audiobook or meditating. You might want to load a mediation app onto your phone before your hospitalization.
  • Nurse comforting senior female patient
    8. Be proactive about pain.
    It’s next to impossible to sleep when you’re in pain. And, it’s a whole lot easier to keep pain in check if you ask for and take prescribed medicine before your discomfort is intense. Talk with your nurse about how to best time your pain medicine. In most cases, it will be helpful to take a dose of pain medicine before bed.

    Consider other pain reduction techniques as well, such as the application of heat or cold. Again, your nurse can advise you.
  • Young female patient lying on a medical bed in hospital ward.
    9. Try deep breathing.
    Still can’t get to sleep? Take a long deep breath through your nose, if you can, and then exhale slowly through pursed lips. Repeat as necessary. Counting during your inhales and exhales may also help you relax and ease into sleep. Or, you can try a visual exercise: With each exhale, picture germs or pain leaving your body. On each inhale, imagine strength and healing flowing into your body.

    Deep breathing slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressures, and promotes healing.
9 Tips for Getting Sleep During a Hospital Stay

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. Wesselius H, van den Ende E, Alsma J, et al. (2018). Quality and Quantity of Sleep and Factors Associated With Sleep Disturbance in Hospitalized Patients. JAMA Internal Medicine, 178(9), 1201. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.2669. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2687528
  2. Getting Sleep in the Hospital. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/getting-sleep-in-the-hospital-2019123118571
  3. Getting a Better Night’s Sleep in the Hospital to Improve Healing. UCLA Health. https://www.uclahealth.org/vitalsigns/getting-a-better-night-s-sleep-in-the-hospital-to-improve-healing
  4. Sleep and Hospitalization: Effect on Outcomes. American Geriatrics. https://www.americangeriatrics.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/Vineet_Arora_MD_MAPP1.pdf
  5. Improving Your Sleep During Your Hospital Stay. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/improving-your-sleep-during-your-hospital-stay
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 May 5
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