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How to Sleep after ACL Surgery and Other Tips for a Good Night of Rest

May 31, 2022
A patient wears a knee brace

If you plan to undergo surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament of your knee, or ACL, this is a good time to think about how to take care of yourself after discharge. Make plans with caretakers for traveling to medical appointments and checkups, line up equipment you will need, and even rearrange furniture to maximize your comfort during recovery. Perhaps most importantly, consider how to sleep after ACL surgery – both where you will sleep and how to get the best possible night’s rest. The orthopedics team at Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, NY, provides the following tips for a good night of sleep after ACL surgery.

Follow Medical Advice

Sleep is an important element in healing the body. Your body repairs itself during restful sleep. Not only does enough sleep help you reduce mental anxiety and stress, but it also reduces inflammation. However, when deciding how to sleep after ACL surgery, please follow your physician’s advice, especially in terms of medication, both prescription and over-the-counter.

Make sure you know which medications to take when, and how much. The proper dosage and combination of medications may help relieve your pain and let you drift into sleep more easily, but do not risk mixing medications without consulting your physician. Sleeping aids also may be helpful, but only with the approval of your medical team. And do not risk developing any dependence on pain medications. Follow the patient guide provided by your medical team.

Choose the Right Sleeping Position

Sleep positioning varies from person to person, whether we prefer stomach, side, back, or moving and shifting positions throughout the night. As long as you follow medical advice, choosing how to sleep after ACL surgery might be determined by the most comfortable position at the time.

However, this excludes sleeping on your stomach or sleeping on the same side as the knee that has undergone surgery. If you usually sleep on your stomach, you may want to practice sleeping in other positions in the weeks before surgery is scheduled. But do make sure you get some good nights of sleep before the surgery, as well.

Elevate and Ice the Knee

The most common advice given for sleeping the first few nights after surgery is to lie on the back and elevate the leg that has undergone surgery. It should be elevated slightly above the heart. This keeps blood circulating well throughout the area. Find a comfortable, soft pillow and place it under the calf – not the knee. Your physician will let you know whether you should keep the brace on the knee while in bed.

Sometimes, sleeping in a reclining chair is the most comfortable way to elevate the legs and fall asleep. Consider moving the recliner into the bedroom, or at least to a more private area, if you want to have the option of sleeping in a recliner during your postoperative recovery.

You probably will receive a regular regimen for icing at the site of the surgery. Icing right before bed, for at least 10 to 15 minutes, helps relieve any pain that interferes with sleep. Make this part of your bedtime routine.

Use Pillows for Comfort and Stability

Since you might experience more pain and soreness during the first few days and weeks of recovery after ACL surgery, keep movement to a minimum while sleeping. Use pillows on either side of your body to encourage stability, and discourage movement in your sleep. If it is comfortable for you to sleep on your side, try putting a pillow between your legs. But remember not to sleep on the side of your ACL surgery. Place that leg on top of the pillow.

Develop a Regular Bedtime Routine

Another excellent suggestion for how to sleep after ACL surgery is to keep a regular bedtime routine. Try to spend the night sleeping, although if you end up sleeping for a few hours at a time initially, that is OK, too. Here is a checklist to help with a bedtime routine:

  • Sleep in a dark room, with no electronics
  • Ice for at least 10 minutes right before bed
  • Decrease or eliminate stimulants, such as food, coffee, alcohol, or cigarettes
  • Keep your room cool as long as you are comfortable
  • Make bedtime a priority, and start preparing one hour beforehand
  • No restricting clothing in bed

Find Out More About How to Sleep After ACL Surgery

With patience, by following your physician’s orders, and getting plenty of rest, you will regain strength and movement after ACL surgery. If you are a candidate for ACL surgery, get expert advice about the surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation from Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, NY. Contact us for more information.