How to Sleep After Shoulder Surgery

Managing a routine post shoulder surgery

Shoulder surgery can be invasive and the aftermath can be a long journey. It is painful, uncomfortable, and requires post-surgery research. If you’re recovering from shoulder surgery, it can be especially difficult to get comfortable when going to sleep. This happens because of aggravated nerve endings in the shoulder that cause discomfort. 

During your recovery, there are certain products and remedies that will help you get that rest you need to start feeling your best as soon as possible. Whether you decide to opt for an ice pack or a special pillow, these aids will make sleeping easier.  Following a specific regimen can help speed up the process of recuperation, so listen to your body as well as your doctor’s instructions in regards to rest and medication. 

How can I improve my sleep and avoid pain after shoulder surgery?

Ice Packs

As mentioned, ice packs can be a great way to combat shoulder pain and provide relief. Icing the area right before bed can numb the area and reduce inflammation to help make it easier to sleep. Avoid too much activity during the day, as this could exacerbate the pain in your shoulder at night from exhaustion. 


Wedge Pillows

Sleeping in a reclined position can help take pressure off your shoulder area. Whether this is in a reclining chair or on your bed, consider purchasing a wedge pillow which can help position your body in the optimal way for sleep. If given a sling by the doctor, consider wearing it in bed for security to prevent your shoulder from moving around too much throughout the night. 

bed wedge pillow uses


Lying flat on your back can be the worst thing for post-surgery. Propping up the injured arm can also help blood flow and relief of tension. Placing a pillow beneath the shoulder can help provide some relief from the area of that arm instead of having the muscles engage to hold it up. If you are a side sleeper, lay those pillows underneath the sling so it is level and not angled towards the ground. Laying in a more neutral position helps allow the shoulder to relax at night. See our guide on how to sleep properly on a pillow for more information. 


How to take care of my shoulder after surgery 

Some things you may want to pay attention to post-surgery are:


  • Activity level: Listen to your body and pay attention to whether or not you feel pain when doing certain activities. Rest when necessary even if it is more often than you are used to; your body needs to recover. Avoid lifting heavy objects or using your arm for repetitive movements. 
  • Medication: Take your medication as directed by your doctor. Pay attention to things that could interfere with your medication (i.e. alcohol, other medications, etc).  Taking your medication with food prior to sleep can help avoid an upset stomach and time the pain relief with your sleep schedule. Additionally, keep an eye out for potential side effects. If any occur, notify your doctor to discuss other options.
  • Diet: Eat normally, but if your stomach becomes upset, try more bland, nondescript foods. Drink lots of water and other fluids. Constipation can occur, so try and incorporate more fiber into your diet such as avocados, quinoa, oats, and almonds. 
  • Bandaging: Keeping the area of your incision clean and dry is essential after having surgery and will prevent further irritation or infection. Change out your bandages when necessary and clean the area gently in the shower or bath. 
  • Exercise: Rehabilitation is often necessary after surgery to ensure that range of motion returns back in its entirety. Small steps are key to a full recovery. Listen to your doctor or physical therapist in order to perform these exercises correctly and safely. 
  • Ice: Icing the area can provide relief and reduce swelling in the area. It is recommended to ice it 10-20 minutes at a time every few hours for optimal recovery and results. Large ice packs like the Cooler Shock Reusable Ice Pack can be great for continuous use.


How long should I keep my sleeping position changed after surgery?

Depending on the severity of the injury, it is recommended that you sleep in an elevated position for 4-6 weeks for the best results. When doing this, pay attention to your pain or sensitivity in the area. If you are feeling an unusual amount of discomfort, contact your doctor to discuss your options. There could also potentially be complications with the injury and how it is healing so it is important to keep tabs on how you feel. 

When to call the doctor post-surgery

  • Pain that remains even after taking medication
  • Excessive swelling that spreads to the rest of the arm
  • Numbness or tingling in arm, hands, or fingers
  • Any yellow or discolored discharge from the wound/incision area
  • Fever higher than 101 degrees 
  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop even when pressure is applied


How do you sleep in bed after shoulder surgery?

Sleep in a propped up position with as many pillows to support as necessary.

How do you sleep with a shoulder sling on?

Make sure your sling stays elevated by securing it with pillows to keep it level. Avoid having it at a downward angle. 

What is the best way to sleep during shoulder surgery recovery?

Sleeping flat on your back is the worst thing you could do post-surgery. Whether you sleep on your back or on your side, just keep your body supported and at an incline. Use pillows to avoid too much room for your shoulder to move around; you want it to be secured.

How to Sleep After Shoulder Surgery Final Thoughts

Shoulder surgery can greatly affect your comfort level, especially when trying to go to sleep at night. It takes a while to fully get back to how you felt before surgery. However, following the tips above can make for a much more pleasant recovery. Frequently icing the area, wearing your sling at night, sleeping on an incline, and propping up the injured arm on a pillow can all help you more effectively recuperate. 

If you are a back sleeper, sleep on an incline and have a pillow to support your sling. If you sleep on your side, have a few pillows to level out your arm that sits in the sling. Also taking medication regularly, changing out bandages, and monitoring your activity level help as well. It should take about 4-6 weeks to get back to a somewhat normal routine and range of motion in your shoulder. Being patient and diligent in this regimen is essential to a full recovery and can help make the process much more painless.

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