10 Tips for Sleeping With a Broken Bone
Sometimes we take for granted how important comfort is when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. But it can be hard to get comfortable and fall asleep safely when recovering from a broken bone or fracture. Given how important sleep is to the healing process, here are some expert tips on getting quality sleep with a broken bone.
What Causes Broken Bones
Breaks are a very common injury and happen when there’s force on the bone greater than the bone can stand. Millions of bone breaks occur each year, mostly caused by injuries from falls, sports, or accidents. Health problems like osteoporosis make bones brittle and weak, causing the bones to break more easily, including breaking with less force or without resulting from any injury.
How Do I Know if I Have a Broken Bone?
Broken bones are painful. Symptoms can also include swelling, soreness, bruising, and sometimes a deformity. If you suspect a broken bone, had an accident that could cause one, or have pain or other symptoms, seek immediate treatment from a healthcare provider.
A physical exam and x-rays are needed to determine if you have a broken bone. If you do have a broken bone, the healthcare provider will likely immobilize it to keep it from moving. Depending on the location and severity of the break, this could involve a splint or cast. Some broken bones need surgery or other medical procedures to set the bone before splinting.
Sleeping Temperatures May Effect Recovery
It’s been widely recommended that the . Our bodies are programmed to experience a slight dip in core temperature in the evening. Turning the thermostat down at night may help with temperature regulation and signal your body that it’s time for bed. If your bedroom temperature is too hot or humid, chances are you’ll experience restlessness and trouble falling or staying asleep, in turn slowing down your body’s ability to repair itself. Sleeping too cold has its downsides too. While it may not affect your sleep cycles as drastically as sleeping too hot, it could lead to other health issues.
Sleeping With a Broken Bone
The first days after breaking a bone can feel overwhelming. In most situations, you will be treated by an orthopedic specialist who will provide you with special instructions on how to take care of your broken bone as well as what not to do while you have a splint or cast. Be sure to follow these instructions and ask any questions you have.
When you have a broken bone, it can be difficult to feel comfortable. You will find sleeping with a broken bone challenging, especially in the first several days. These tips can help make this better:
Getting comfortable will likely be the hardest part of sleeping. Finding a position that supports the broken bone is most important, but the rest of your body needs to be comfortable too. Depending on the location of the broken bone, this will likely be on your back or side, propping the affected area with pillows or cushions. If you have an adjustable base, this is the time to use it to get into a sustainable position.
Control your pain
Take your medications as directed. Your doctor will tell you what medication to take and how to take it. If you have questions or concerns, be sure to ask. Medications are provided to help you manage pain. Not taking them when needed can make you feel worse. Non-medical treatments can also help. “Putting ice on the area can help control pain and reduce inflammation,” recommends Dave Candy, a doctor of physical therapy in St. Louis.
Elevate, elevate, elevate
Having a supportive mattress or sleeping surface is a critical start — a sagging mattress can put unnecessary pressure on your pain points. This can help you get comfortable and settle in. Next, elevate the affected arm or leg above the heart with pillows or foam supports or with your adjustable bed base. Broken bones of the arms or legs need to stay elevated to limit movement and decrease pain and swelling in the area of the break.
When getting up from laying or reclined positions, be sure to do so slowly. Remember that you have a sling, splint, or cast in place that is slowing you down. More important, having your injured arm or leg elevated can affect your blood flow. If you’ve been lying in the same position for long periods, you may get lightheaded or dizzy when trying to get up. Sit up slowly at the side of the bed before standing to make sure you don’t fall. This is where an adjustable bed can come in handy as it can leverage you up into a position that makes it easier to get out of bed safely and slowly.
Avoid adding pressure
Be sure not to put pressure on your broken bone, which could cause more pain, swelling, or discomfort. Adding heavy or weighted blankets could cause this. This may also happen if you allow pets or kids in your bed or if you sleep with a bed partner. If you’re able to isolate yourself from any bed interlopers, do so for the first few weeks.
Also, remember not to stay in one position for too long. This creates pressure on your buttocks, back, hips, or other areas. In extreme situations, prolonged time in one position can cause bed sores or wounds and could lead to infection.
Splints and casts may cause you to become overheated. Consider this when dressing for bed or gathering blankets and pillows. You do not want to get too hot and be more uncomfortable. Wear loose garments in natural fibers, like linen or cotton.
You may find trying to lay on a flat mattress just isn’t comfortable enough. You can use extra pillows, foam, or an adjustable base to prop yourself up. However, if this isn’t enough, you might find the best option is sleeping in a reclining position like a recliner chair.
Avoid sleeping on your stomach
Sleeping on your back or side is best in almost every case. “It is best to avoid sleeping on your stomach as there are not too many fractures that would benefit from stomach sleeping,” says Lalitha McSorley, a physical therapist with Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary. “This position can cause additional strain on the injured area and may result in further pain or discomfort. Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended if you have a fracture to your ribs, collar bone, and shoulder, to name a few.”
Once you’re in bed, rely on loved ones to help pad your affected area so that you’re not twisting and contorting to get pillows and support into place. Once comfortable, you might need extra help summoning liquids and nutritious foods if you’re bed-bound.
The best thing for your broken bone is rest. The bone needs time to heal: Bones take an average of six weeks to heal. This depends on your health, which bone is broken, the type of fracture, and how you take care of it and yourself. Some broken bones can take up to a year to fully heal.
Why Adjustable Bases Are Good for Broken Bone Recovery
There’s a reason hospital beds are adjustable. An adjustable bed base enables you to customize your sleep position to best suit your comfort and recovery. When used in conjunction with supports like pillows, you can find a comfortable position to rest — and sleep — better as you recover. In addition to enabling you to elevate your head and feet as needed, adjustable bed bases are great for helping position you to get out of bed, too, if that’s a concern. Even when you’ve fully recovered the “Zero G” position, which elevates your legs above your heart, can help with swelling and back pain around lumbar spine fractures. It can also reduce pressure points that cause sleep disturbances due to muscle tension in the lower back areas.
Sleeping Comfortably With Common Types of Bone Fractures
Depending on the type of broken bone you have, getting comfortable enough to get good sleep can be difficult.
Be sure to follow the instructions your healthcare provider gives you based on your specific break. Use ice and pain medication as directed. If you were instructed to use a splint, immobilizer, or sling—use it as directed and wear it appropriately.
Finding a comfortable position isn’t one-size-fits-all. Not everyone can get comfortable the same way, but it is important to avoid things that cause more pain or swelling. Failing to elevate your limb or avoiding your sling could prolong or hinder your recovery.
How To Sleep Comfortably With a Broken Collarbone
The collarbone, or clavicle, is one of the most commonly broken bones. The collarbone curves from the chest to the shoulder just below the neck. Its position makes it susceptible to breaks during falls or force to the upper arm or shoulder.
A broken collarbone can be painful, causing swelling and a possible deformity of the area. A break there may make it difficult to move your arm without increasing pain.
A broken collarbone can take up to six weeks to heal in children and six to 12 weeks in adults, which is why it’s important to find a way to sleep as comfortably as possible for this extended time.
Many people with this break find sitting up or slightly reclined the most comfortable way to sleep. Using an adjustable base or a wedge can help you lay elevated on your back, which McSorley states “helps reduce swelling and pain.”
Many doctors recommend that you sleep with a sling in place. Check with your doctor to see if they recommend that your sling remain in place continuously or if it’s okay to take it off for sleep.
How To Sleep With Fractured Ribs
Getting comfortable with broken ribs can be challenging. Broken ribs are painful and can take at least six weeks to heal. Ribs move with every breath and movement of your upper body, making the breaks noticeable every few seconds, which can make recovery tricky.
Broken ribs may not require treatment like other broken bones. Previous treatments like splinting aren’t used anymore. Your healthcare provider will determine the best treatment plan for your type of broken ribs.
To help reduce pain, use ice and pain medications as directed. Sleeping in an upright or reclined position can make sleeping more comfortable. An adjustable bed or wedge can also be helpful here. You may also find sleeping on the opposite side of the break more comfortable. Use pillows to prop your front and back to help keep yourself from rolling.
“Sleeping on your stomach should be avoided with fractured ribs. It causes additional strain on the injured area and may result in further pain or discomfort,” says McSorley.
Best Sleep Positions for Broken Legs
Sleeping with a broken leg can be uncomfortable, and sleep recommendations can depend on where your leg is broken.
There are two bones in your lower leg: the tibia and fibula. Sleeping on your back is recommended, and the leg should be elevated. If you have an adjustable bed, this is easy, but you can also elevate the lower leg on pillows, a bolster, or a cushion. You have more freedom with your upper body with this break, and even the ability to sleep on your side with your leg elevated.
Having a broken femur (thigh bone) can make sleeping much more challenging. This bone is the strongest in your body. Though hard to break, when it is broken it can be very painful, and the type of break will determine how healthcare providers treat it. Sometimes, equipment that holds the bone in place is needed. This is called traction, and when this is the case, you will be required to lay flat on your back until the bone is repaired.
Surgery is typically needed for a femur break. Depending on your treatment, you may have equipment attached to the bone, like rods and screws on the outside of the leg. Again, this will require you to stay on your back with limited movement. For breaks not in need of surgery, a cast or splint will be applied from hip to foot, preventing all movement of your leg keeping you flat.
Your leg will be slightly elevated to decrease swelling and pain. You can adjust pillows under your head and shoulders, but the rest of your body will remain flat until your providers permit you to move, roll or get out of bed.
Best Sleep Positions for a Broken Arm
A broken arm may allow for the most flexibility after the first couple of weeks. Initially, it is recommended to sleep sitting up or reclined with a pillow under the arm for support. If your healthcare provider gave you a sling, you may need to wear it while sleeping, too. A pillow under your elbow at your side will help immobilize and elevate your arm.
Once swelling decreases and pain eases, you will have more freedom to rest more comfortably for the remaining weeks. This could mean sleeping on your side or back, as stomach sleeping isn’t ideal for isolating the broken limb, particularly if the fracture is higher in your arm. You may be advised not to lift or elevate your shoulder.
Sleeping Positions That Improve Recovery
Therapists often recommend that you start out trying to sleep on your back, supported by a few pillows or the incline of an adjustable base. If that doesn’t work for you, slowly adjust yourself to a side position if possible. Sleep in the middle of the bed to prevent any chance of falling off in the middle of the night. Sleeping on the side or back is considered more beneficial than sleeping on the stomach. In either of these sleep positions, it's easier to keep your spine supported and balanced, relieving pressure on the spinal tissues and enabling your muscles to relax and recover.
What To Know About Sleeping With a Broken Bone
Broken bones are generally caused by injuries that put a force on the bone greater than it can tolerate. Having a broken bone can be a painful experience. The location and type of break can make moving and sleeping a challenge. Broken bones take time to heal, and rest is important. Getting good sleep with a broken bone is a necessary part of healing.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleeping With Broken Bones
Why is fracture pain worse at night?
During the night, you experience a drop in the stress hormone cortisol, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Since the reduction of cortisol can trigger inflammation, it can cause pain, whether for fractures or even regular joint pain.
What is worse, a fracture or a break?
These terms are used interchangeably and have the same meaning to medical professionals, so neither one is worse than the other..
Does your body heal injuries when you sleep?
Sleep is when your body rests and recovers. During deep sleep, growth hormones rebuild injured tissues. Sleep is also a time of reduced cortisol. Elevated cortisol can affect bone density and reduce calcium absorption by your bones, which means it's imperative to get quality sleep.
How do you sleep with an injury?
How you sleep depends on the injury you have. Supportive pillows and an adjustable base will likely help you more easily find comfortable positions that minimize swelling. The position that’s best for your healing will depend on the type of injury but could include sleeping on your back or your side in the fetal position.
Does your body heal while awake?
Recent research shows that when it comes to wound healing, our bodies heal significantly faster if the injury is sustained during the day rather than at night because of the way circadian rhythms control how cells function.
What is the healthiest sleeping position?
Sleeping on your back offers the most health benefits. It protects your spine, and it can also help to relieve hip and knee pain. Sleeping on your back uses gravity to keep your body in an even alignment over your spine. This can help reduce any unnecessary pressure on your back or joints.