Best Way to Sleep with Broken Ribs Pain When Lying Down at Night

Sleeping with broken ribs is often challenging, especially when you can’t sleep comfortably in your normal sleeping position. Adjusting to new sleeping positions and severe pain may keep your sleeping patterns disturbed.

Thankfully, with modern sleeping aids and medication for fractured ribs, you can get better sleep during recovery. But before you move on to learn more about best sleeping practices, it is also crucial to understand what happens to your ribs when they are broken.

We have 12 pairs of ribs (total 24) connected by costal cartilages to the sternum that protect our major organs such as the heart and lungs. Ribs do not just structurally support the skeleton but also provide an armature for muscular stability. The fracture or break in ribs is caused by a high impact accident or a fall.

Additionally, rib fractures may also occur as a result of repetitive bone damaging actions like playing golf or coughing for too long.

How To Sleep Comfortably With Broken Ribs

Try to sleep sitting up in an upright position as it will keep your chest straight helping cracked ribs heal faster. This is the best sleep position that keeps rib pain from getting worse in bed and makes breathing easy. Avoid sleeping on your side while you’re on the mend. Focus on recovery exercises and avoid walking for a week after at least.

We discuss all this, and a few other ways you can enjoy a good bedtime when recovering from fractured ribs:

1. Sleep Sitting Up

This is probably the best way to sleep when recovering from broken ribs. You may not be used to this sleeping position but it is ideal to let your cracked ribs heal faster. The logic is simple: lying down on your back or side can put undue pressure on the rib cage and spine. Sleeping while sitting up is a perfect position for keeping your chest straight. It will also help you get up easily from the bed or the couch.

Sleeping while sitting upright should be accompanied by some support pillows tucked beneath your head and under your arms. There are a variety of products on the market that can assist you to sleep comfortably in this position.

Use backrest pillow

What’s better than getting soft support for your back and arms while sleeping in a seated position. A backrest pillow also known as a reading pillow is a great option to attain balance during the night; ensuring that your back and chest remain straight and you are able to breathe or cough properly. A reading pillow will also support your arms to lie in a restful position. You can get yourself one on Amazon here.

A wedge pillow

Similar to the backrest pillow, a wedge pillow will keep you elevated while you sleep. Wedge pillows are commonly used after major surgeries, as they help reduce swelling and can aid in the healing process. The benefit of a wedge pillow is that it can be positioned to help you sit completely upright, or allow you to lay just slightly elevated, with your shoulders and head at a 30 degree angle. You can buy a wedge pillow on Amazon here.

Chaise Lounge Chair

Not using the bed and choosing a Chaise Lounge Chair for sleeping with a rib fracture is a good choice. A chaise lounge chair has armrests and adjustable positions, a luxury which a mattress doesn’t offer. It is more convenient for the body to lie down in an elevated position as it will pump the blood efficiently. Make sure the chair you choose has armrests, otherwise it won’t offer the support you need and you might even fall from it.

Sleep on a Recliner

Often suggested by doctors, Recliners are ideal for sleeping in a sitting position while giving you the ideal elevation and comfort. One of the best things about sleeping in a recliner chair is that you can always adjust your back with the zero gravity option to move your head and back as per your need. A recliner that can bend forward and backward will also give you the ease of getting in and out of the chair in the morning.

2. Sleep on your back slightly elevated

Though sleeping on your back is not recommended when recovering from broken ribs injury, however, a slight elevation on the back while sleeping can let the injury get an uninterrupted supply of blood and help you sleep better.

If you sleep straight on your back for a long time, you might suffer stiffness and soreness in the morning. Sleeping in a slightly elevated position using a wedge pillow is conducive to supporting your upper back and to not let the blood pool in the fractured zone as your heart will be above your legs. In addition to that, wedge pillows offer other sleep benefits as well that can help you sleep better.

3. Use a Nursing Pillow when You Sneeze

Sneezing without damaging the ribs is a herculean task and one of many problems faced by people with cracked ribs. A great solution is to support your chest with a soft nursing pillow that will act as a barrier to absorb the force.

A nursing pillow can also be used when coughing or hiccuping. It also gives some support when you are trying to stand up with broken ribs. At night, you can tuck it around your neck to support your spine while sleeping.

4. Avoid Sleeping on Your Side

Under normal circumstances, sleeping on the side is a fairly harmless sleeping position. But when undergoing a rib injury recovery, it does more harm than good. When you sleep on your side with a broken rib or bruised rib cage, you may exert pressure on the chest which may end up further damaging the already damaged area.

5. Sleep More

Go to bed as early as you can. Do not take heavy meals or drink alcohol or caffeine prior to sleeping. Remember your goal is to recover quickly because rib pain is excruciating and induces breathing difficulty. Allow yourself at least 8 hours of quality sleep and some naps during the day.

It is no surprise that sleeping is an important part of healing. Getting your ribs fractured is shocking for the entire body. Sleeping and getting adequate rest is a relief to the nerves and muscles. It gives enormous strength to damaged tissues for reformation and restoration of the ribs.

Sleep is also not just important for regaining bone strength but also helps you cope with the stress of immobility and other physiological difficulties. By getting an undisturbed sleep, our mind receives relief from the inflammatory ache and all the emotional strain associated with the fracture.

6. Practice Deep Breathing

While healing from a broken rib injury, it is important to cough or take the deepest breaths every two hours. Deep breathing exercises can help prevent a collapsed lung from developing or even pneumonia.

Every two hours or according to the schedule advised by your doctor, breathe in slowly and deeply, filling your lungs. Continue to breathe deeply within the next few minutes and exhale slowly. After 2-3 minutes, gently cough several times and take a deep breath once again.

If this routine ends up being too painful, talk to your physician for some pain relief medication. Holding a pillow tightly against your fractured rib can also make these deep breathing exercises less painful.

7. Restrict Your Movement While You Sleep

During the first few days of your rib injury, try sleeping upright and restrict your turning, twisting, coughing, and stretching movements. It might be easier said than done, especially when it is so easy to forget while sleeping.

But, remember that the ribs directly connect to many upper parts of the body, and any excessive movement can increase your overall pain and suffering.

Also, keep an extra pillow as you may need to brace it against your ribs while coughing. Moreover, do not wrap your ribs to limit movement as it only increases your chances of developing a collapsed lung and other respiratory infections.

8. Try Pain Medication and OTC Pain Relievers

People with broken rib injuries are advised to take their prescribed medication about 30 minutes before going to bed as it helps to control the pain.

However, some pain medications may keep you up all night and end up causing sleep apnea. Opioid medications like codeine and morphine may make breathing difficult and disturb your sleep cycle.

If you do not have prescriptive pain medicines, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen.

But, do check with your physician for a specific recommendation of dosage. Patients suffering from heart diseases, high blood pressure, kidney and liver diseases, etc, must consult their physician for the safe consumption of these medications.

Why Do Broken Ribs Hurt More At Night?

broken ribs hurt more at night

One of the major reasons why broken ribs hurt more at night is because of the native bone cells like osteoblasts and chondrocytes that release inflammatory cytokines during the first week of recovery. Besides that, there is a greater chance of involuntary movements when a person is asleep.

To avoid rolling off in bed at night, make sure you sleep in an upright position using a back support. In addition to that, you can use pillows to form a nest around yourself which will help restrict your movement while you sleep at night. If you still experience bruised ribs pain lying down and the pain is unbearable, you can take painkillers as prescribed by your doctor.

How Long Does It Take For Broken Ribs To Heal

Best Way to Sleep with Broken Ribs

Healing from broken ribs will at least take 6-8 weeks if you are strictly taking care of your chest and getting adequate sleep. Going for regular physiotherapy sessions and doing physical and respiratory exercises will help the ribs heal faster.

You have to be wary that each injury has a unique time period for recovery. Depending on whether you have broken, bruised, torn or subluxated ribs, the recovery period will vary. In case of minor fractures that don’t involve any organ damage or infection, the time span is six weeks. However, for the rib fractures that get treated by surgery, it might take several months to fully recover.

The recovery period may also be prolonged if you ended up damaging your sternum as well when you fractured your ribs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What helps broken ribs heal faster?

A lot of protein and calcium-based diet is important for your ribs to heal quickly. Besides getting an 8-hour sleep and taking light walks around the house, you should also keep yourself hydrated. Taking prescribed medication, proper breathing and coughing is essential for a speedy recovery. 

How to get out of bed with broken ribs?

Getting in and out of bed with broken ribs can be quite gruesome. Here’s a quick trick that will help you lessen your pain while you enter or leave the bed.

Grab whatever you are wearing from both sides and hold it as tightly as you can using one hand. The tighter you can make it, the less your ribs will move around and the less pain you will feel. Also, this trick works better when you are wearing a less stretchy fabric. Now use your other hand to support your body when getting in or out of the bed.

Is a heating pad good for broken ribs?

Doctors do not suggest using a heating pad. Whenever there is a fracture or injury, the damaged site is already inflamed. A heating pad only adds fuel to the fire. Your body tissues already produce the heat which the fractured area requires to heal. The viable option is to get an ice pack to reduce swelling and bruising. In fact, it is crucial to use an ice-pack for ten to twenty minutes for the first few weeks daily. Always good to consult with your doctor before applying any DIY remedy.

What should you not do with broken ribs?

Avoid taking part in any extreme activities such as playing football, golf or anything that requires running, pulling or pushing. Do not lift anything above ten pounds and avoid doing crunches at the gym. Avoid putting heat packs or taking inflammatory medicines or foods. Do not use the medication without the prescription of a doctor.

Do broken ribs ever heal?

Yes, they do but the recovery period depends on the number of broken ribs and extent of damage. A full-scale recovery will take from one to two months after which you can resume your normal activities. In case of a major fracture, you will have to undergo a surgery in which a surgeon will use screws and titanium plates to bind the ribs together. If there are any damages caused to lungs, nerves or blood vessels, these will be treated in the procedure too.

Is bed rest good for broken ribs?

Immobility for some time is important to let your ribs be cured. However, you should not completely be bedridden during the day. Go out for a brisk walk to unstiffen your muscles. A light walk around the room every two hours can also help. Keep in mind that rest is something you should never omit when having a broken bone but some mobility is equally important.

Does broken rib pain get worse before it gets better?

The pain is worse for at least one to two weeks initially, after which it starts to get better.  If the pain stays or gets worse even after 3 weeks, you must visit your doctor.

When can I return to work after broken ribs?

You should start working only on the advice of your health care specialist. Your X-rays and the extent of a fracture will determine the time when you can get back to work. If the fracture is minor, you will return between 4-6 weeks. In case of a more serious fracture, it may take months for things to get back to normal. Returning to work is also dependent on the nature of your job. If it involves too much moving around or bending, it would not be smart to start working early.

Can I drive with cracked ribs?

Like most of the physical activities, driving with broken ribs does not come without consequences. Driving with broken ribs is a risky maneuver. Your chest is connected to your back and arms and driving requires spontaneous action and quick movements. It is recommended that you avoid driving with fractured ribs.

How do you cough with a broken rib?

You need a support pillow or a belt to protect the rib cage while coughing. It is important that you cough and let the fluids in your lungs be cleared or else they will cause pneumonia. You can cough slowly while holding a cushion tightly to your chest.

What is the difference between a broken rib and a fractured rib?

Fractured and broken refer to the same thing. A rib fracture or break means that the rib bones have sustained an injury and got cracked during a high-impact event such as a car or bike accident. Breaks or fractures can subsequently lead to bruising of the surrounding tissues or organs.

What happens if you leave a broken rib untreated?

In most cases with minor fractures, the rib can heal on its own. In cases where surgery is required, if the rib is left untreated, it can cause a punctured lung or lead to lacerated spleen, liver or kidneys.

Should I go to the ER for a broken rib?

Since the only way to confirm your injury is by getting an X-ray, it is important that you go to an ER as soon as you suspect of having broken your rib.

Rib fractures occur in high impact collisions with enough force that may cause more life-threatening injuries. More than one rib can be broken at a time, and having three broken ribs together is potentially life-threatening.

It becomes especially dangerous if the patient shows symptoms such as severe shortness of breath, coughing blood, experiences confusion, dizziness etc. So it’s important that you get appropriate medical attention as soon as possible.

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