What Is The Best Position To Sleep After Heart Surgery?

It’s a great question. And, as I personally learned after my double heart valve replacement operation (known as the Ross Procedure), it’s a tricky question to answer. Plus, if you’re like me and you really enjoy your sleep, this is a critical question to ponder.

Actually, to best answer this question, you need to consider the time following your operation to determine the best position for sleeping after open heart surgery. Why?

Well, immediately following open heart surgery you will not have a choice. Sorry to be a buzz kill.

As you can see here in my pictures from the I.C.U., there are tubes everywhere. The only real option for you to sleep is on your back.

Then, you will come from the hospital. YEAAHHHHH! Plus, no more tubes sticking out of your body! However, for the first few weeks, you may have some trouble sleeping. I had some night sweats and insomnia. I used Halcion, as a sleeping pill, to sleep through the night.

As for best sleeping position options… During the first few weeks after cardiac surgery, soreness from the median sternotomy (aka your cracked rib cage) will be pretty intense. Therefore, I chose to continue my ‘on-the-back’ sleep style.

As your chest plate starts to heal, the best position for sleeping after open heart surgery will begin to change.

Personally, I love to sleep on my tummy. I have my own favorite position for sleep – on my stomach, one arm under one pillow and the other arm over a second pillow. Not to mention, I typically like to sleep with one leg over the covers. Am I weird?

Anyways, back to the best position for sleep after open heart surgery.

Now, it’s a few weeks after open heart surgery. Your chest is healing. You will be tempted to sleep on your side. Go for it! I’ll never forget that first night of sleep on my side. It was pretty darn good. I felt progress. I was healing! If you want, try for the stomach. You’re not going to break. If it hurts, roll back to your side.

I don’t think I fully made it to my tummy for sleep until the seventh week following surgery. But, I have to tell you, that was one of the greatest sleeps I ever had! 🙂

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Al Metrik

    Adam:

    I had open heart surgery weeks ago today. I’ve always slept on my side but have not done so yet. I don’t have an appointment with the surgeon and cardiologist for three more weeks. Do I still have to sleep on my back until then? I haven’t had much sternum discomfort. I’m just afraid I’d crack it if I got on my side too soon.

    Also, I sleep in a recliner because if I lay down on my bed I immediately get a lower back ache. Have you had any similar comments from other readers?

    Thanks.

    Al Metrik

  • bill molineux

    i had a 7.5 cm ascending aortic aneurysm repair done on 7-03-08 and a mechanical heart valve put in.

    i think i’m doing good for now sleeping on my back and side. it’s taking awhile to get my strengh back. doing alot of walking. still having some problems with shortness of breath. having a big problem with my right arm – pins and needles and nummness and also lost alot of strength and motion. doctors think it might be a pinched nerve but they dont know. anyone out there have any problems like this? please let me know. thank you

  • John Heiman

    Today is August 12, and I had open heart surgery on July 18. So it’s been 3 1/2 weeks. I don’t see my surgeon until Sept. 4, but I do see a cardiologist on August 21. I still sleep on my back, but I would love to sleep on my side. I always wake up feeling very stiff in the chest and left neck areas. I did sleep in a recliner the first week, but now sleep in bed.
    I seem to get middle of the back pain if I’m standing too long ( after taking a shower ). Just two days ago I started getting a few very sharp pains in my left leg, but I am guessing that is from the stiff muscle finally starting to get some feeling and the nerves healing from where the vein was taken out. I say just give everything time. I’m looking forward to having somebody tell me I can drive again !

  • edward

    i had a triple heart bypass and double valve replacement/repair 12 months ago and after 3 months was told i could drive what a refief,as to question about sleeping i sleep on my stomache but found it hurt after surgery it took about 5 months for me to sleep normal again,but everytime i get a pain or niggle in my chest i start to worry,is this normal ??? i have also changed my family have said ie-very irretable/confused/forgetful/angry/depressed/and moody/i used to be very placid now being compared to victor meldrew,i was told am going through the grieving process,so this is a normal feeling after this type of surgery dont do what i done bottled it up,talk to your practice nurse/physio/doctor they can refer you to counceling,didnt work for me buy hey were all different anyway thats me done hope you all have excellent recovery

  • les yeich

    i had open heart surgery almost exactly one month ago after receiving trauma to my right atrium. only in the last few days have i chanced sleeping on my side. it’s a very mixed blessing kind of situation, though. i find i sleep better but there is rather noticeable extra soreness to my sternum. so i try to fall asleep on my back, and if i wake up on my side i assess the pain. if it’s just a little sore i stay put or switch sides; if it hurts i’ll go back to my back. for the record i only had pain and anti-anxiety meds for the first two weeks and have been truckin’ it since then. another mixed blessing, as i feel like i’m more responsive to my body’s requirements, but obviously it hurts! my follow-up with thorasics is this friday so i hope to alleviate some of my discomfort, in which case i imagine i’ll be sleeping much more comfortably.

  • Malcolm Jones

    Well June 8 was my surgery date. Replaced about 4 inches of the ascending aorta, the aortic root and the aortic valve. I’d had bicuspid aortic valve that was strarting to perform at less than peak levels. But the enlarged aorta (an aortic aneurysm ) was the more pressing health risk. I chose a tissue valve not wanting to be on Coumadin and willing to take the risk of a couple of more surgeries (I’m 61). Procedure was done at Kaiser SF. The entire Kaiser team did a great job. I was cleared to go home on Friday and boy did that feel good. But haven’t slept well the past two night and sleeping pills (prescription and over the counter) don’t seem to help. I did sleep about an hour this morning and when I woke, found myself on my side. Think I’ll try that tonight. I feel blessed to have had such a successful surgery. Now the healing, then recovery, then fitnness!

  • robert

    i had a doub bypass may 12 i still cant sleep its driveing my crazy im on ambein and still cant sleep im very ressent to meds i tryed staying on my back find me on my side or tummy good luck rob

  • TS

    Just got released from the hospital after open heart surgery. I also tended to sleep best face down, very similar to what you describe. Your post had just the info I was looking for — think in terms of 7 weeks, plus/minus to get back to sleeping face down. Thanks for the post!

  • Diane Horsak

    It’s been 3 yrs for me that I had vlve surgery twice in the same day. After the first in intensive care I coded and had to go through a complete second surgery and had a second bovine put in still having a problem with sleeping but have managed to end semi on my side now with the help with a pillow but at first I’m still stiff when getting up and sit on the side of the bed for a few min. then get up. I had to go for a stress test yesterday and now hoping & praying everything will come back ok. really worried about my blood pressure ever since the valve surgery my blood pressure is running pretty low. Alway’s had high blood pressure so go figure but need to find out and hoping beyond hope just need a change in one of the meds. Lol to all and a special T.Y. to Adam for this blog. Still ticking. Diane

  • ML

    I am four weeks past open chest surgery to remove a tumor. I\’m a side sleeper and almost rolled to my side last night. I\’m still a little intimidated by the thought. Sleeping part time in bed and part time in recliner every night. Not taking any pain meds anymore, but still experiencing different pains in my chest/lung area. I\’m getting a little down with the slowness of this recovery, I guess that\’s normal. Grateful for my surgeon and a good prognosis and your site Adam.

  • Anya Safarova

    As of today, March 25th, 2013 I am 17 days past septal myectomy. I am still on pain meds and sleep is something that I can only dream of. I haven’t made it back to bed as of yet, recliner is my sleeping solution. I am also a side sleeper, a left side sleeper. Tried laying down in bed – too painful. I am hoping that in my case this is all just a question of time.
    Thank you for your posts, information found here is useful.

    ~Anya

  • craig

    I also had septal myectomy surgery on march 11th 2013.i am off all pain meds because i chose that route and to try and deal with my pain naturally.my biggest problem is sleeping and not having any luck.can some give me a few pointers!

  • pete leyva

    Its been approximately 6 months from my 4 bypass Heart Surgery. I sleep on my sides mostly but if i do on the left side of my body when i lay on my side and with my arm weight also on my chest their is a sharp pain going down the middle of my chest and then i have to go back to my right side if i turn to far right and also with the weight of my left arm also going to the right it pain down the middle of my chest but it is heal pretty much that you can not see anything. and also when i put on t-shirts, wave my arms or sit in the chair watch tv some tweak pains goes to the chest or all around my chest. will i every get heal with all these sharp little pains around and when i bend over my chest pains some. this is all small stuff will it go away, any an everything i do little pain comes it doesn’t hurt but those little tweaks they are frustrating sometimes. thank you for listening to this.

  • pete leyva jr

    Hi adam this is pete leyva well now its been 8 months lm getting better but still getting little pain when i bend down to reach for something in my chest. I dont know to explain the feeling like the chest moves or maybe the nerves in the chest maybe you can tell me a little about that sort of feeling. I can sleep on my sides a little better now but the progress of getting better is coming along i guess the healing takes time. Thanks for answering my first question adam talk soon. Thanks pete

  • Brian Remple

    Hey Bill how you feeling I had similar surgery done as well a week ago

  • ALVIN SANTA-ANA

    I was told the position that places the greatest strain on the heart was sleeping on your tummy, and that goes for healthy heart individuals and those with heart issues. I avoid that position at all cost as well as sleeping on my Left side strains the heart to work more.

  • Paul

    Howdy, well so far so good. had my open heart surgery done 6 days ago. Replaced my aortic and mitral valve with two mechanical ones and l am 56 years old. Must admit it is hard to find a place of sleep comfort. l use a big comfy lazy boy, the bed was something l couldn’t do because of the pain.and discomfort.

    l try to walk a fair bit and build up my lungs and the rest of my body. Guess l won`t need that new timex watch. l can hear one in my chest all the time… LOL.. God Bless all of you…

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