How to Sleep After ACL Surgery: Sleeping Positions, Tips & More

ACL surgery is a common procedure to have, and as such there are many different methods to deal with the after effects and life after this surgery. During the healing period it may be difficult to sleep after ACL surgery, as there will be discomfort and some pain, and it is necessary to take the right steps to ensure a good night’s sleep.

It’s necessary because sleeping is vital to healing and can speed your recovery, and that’s why we’ve put together this article to help you find a comfortable way to sleep and speed up your healing.

It will be important to control the pain after surgery, maintain a correct sleeping position that keeps the leg elevated so the knee is above the heart, follow all your prescriptions fully, care for your mental health, and provide the body with the fuel and rest that it needs. We will show you how to do all that, tips, a timeline for healing and more, as we walk you through the best way to get a good sleep after ACL surgery.

how to sleep after ACL surgery

What is ACL Surgery and how long will the healing process last?

The ACL is the Anterior Cruciate Ligament and it helps to control the movement of the knee. When it becomes torn or damaged it causes pain, limits movement, and can limit mobility. In order to correct the problem a knee reconstruction, or replacement, is completed. When this is completed there will be an extended healing time after which movement will be restored either completely or with significant improvement compared to pre-surgery.

The recovery period varies by individual and their circumstances, but it will be a few weeks until the immediate effects of the surgery ease and extended healing begins. Some may find they have completely recovered from surgery within just a few months, while others will find it may be a few years before the healing is complete. Neither of these is incorrect, as the speed of healing will differ for everyone. However taking the right steps and sleeping well in the immediate aftermath can help speed up recovery.

How Long Will Sleeping After acl surgery Be Difficult?

While healing from the surgery can take an extended period of time, it should become easier to sleep after a 2-4 weeks, so usually by the end of the first month improvements will have occurred.

Sleeping can be difficult after surgery for many reasons including pain and discomfort, pain medications and other prescriptions that either require waking up during the night or stop you from sleeping, as well as the psychological affects of surgery and medications.

Your sleep will improve when the first stage of healing from the surgery has progressed. Pain should decrease over the first few days and weeks, and medication for pain will be required less frequently, allowing for fewer interruptions to rest. Medication to encourage sleeping may be provided, and these sleep aids can be decreased as healing progresses and sleeping become easier and more comfortable.

how to sleep after ACL surgery

hOW TO SLEEP AFTER ACL SURGERY: thE bEST Sleeping Positions

The recommended sleeping position following ACL surgery is on your back with your leg elevated. It is necessary that you keep your leg elevated using a pillow or other support so that your leg is higher than the heart. This will ease the swelling and reduce discomfort on the joint and surrounding muscles.

If you are unable, or uncomfortable sleeping on your back, then side sleeping is an option. Support the knee with a pillow, and sleep on the opposite side from where your surgery occurred so your healing knee is on the top. This will keep it from being under pressure and will lower discomfort, whilst the pillow will allow your knee to remain elevated and gently supported.

Those who prefer to sleep on their stomach will need to reconsider this for the first few weeks, as sleeping this way can increase pressure on the knee and will cause pain and discomfort. In the end you won’t get a comfortable sleep and it will hamper recovery.

For anyone who tends to toss and turn during the night, it may be necessary to use additional pillows and supports. Moving throughout the night can not only cause pain, but can damage stitches or allow too much movement in the area. In this case it may be best to use a knee brace during sleep so the leg is kept straight and in the correct position. Using pillows on either side of the body, a pillow (or pillows) to support the knee and leg in an elevated position, and even a cervical pillow can all help to keep the correct sleeping position.

how to sleep after ACL surgery

how to sleep after ACL surgery: Protecting Mental Health to Improve Sleep

Any surgery has the risk of affecting mental health as well as the body. While surgery should of course improve pain levels over time, increase movement and mobility, and allow a return to independence, the immediate effects of surgery can be decreased mobility, increased dependance on others, and increased pain for the short term.

Each of these, along with decreased energy levels and insomnia or increased tiredness, will affect the mental health of any person undergoing surgery. In order to improve sleep, it is important to maintain focus on your mental health as well, and find ways to relax enough to sleep well.

This could involve things such as meditation, taking pain pills as prescribed, maintaining friendships and contact with loved ones even when mobility is limited, and taking moments to do the things you enjoy in life such as enjoy favorite meals or warm drinks. Reading and keeping a journal are ways to care for your mental health after surgery or at any time.

If depression, anxiety, or other concerns arise it is important to contact your doctor. There are methods of care and medications if needed to maintain your mental health, as this is important for a full recovery. Recommendations for reducing feelings of depression and connected symptoms include using medication as prescribed, ensuring that you are resting as required and caring for the body and mind – particularly through maintaining physiotherapy and getting fresh air and exercise.

Exercising the mind and body will help to increase blood flow which speeds healing but is also well known to improve mental health and boost mood. Counselling is another option for anyone who needs it to manage their mental or physical health after surgery.

how to sleep after ACL surgery

Medications And Sleep Aids

There will be an increased number of medications that are required immediately after surgery, but using them will just be a temporary stage in the healing process. This will include painkillers and may also include a sleep aid, and in some cases an antibiotic to prevent infection at the surgery site.

It is important to take all medication as prescribed and on time to improve healing and ease discomfort. Eating regular and healthy meals will help keep both mind and body healthy, but can also help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Providing the body with the fuel and nutrients that it needs will also ensure that it is able to heal itself.

Over the counter sleeping aids like melatonin could be an option for helping sleep after ACL surgery just make sure any additional medications won’t have an adverse effect when combined with any other medications you are taking. Natural sleeping aids like Valerian Root and CBD oil are also possibilities to help sleep, but always ask your doctor first.

how to sleep after ACL surgery

Changes to Sleeping Patterns after ACL surgery

Sleeping patters are likely to change after surgery occurs. It may be related to discomfort, medication, or just the stress to body and mind. It may be easier to sleep for shorter periods of time either night or day, resulting in several short naps with few extended periods of sleep, rather than one long stretch at night. Or you may find that you sleep better during daylight hours, or that you sleep during odd hours of the evening with an earlier or later time going to bed than before.

However your prior sleep pattern will return after a few weeks, when the healing process has progressed and both the anxiety and worry about the healing as well as the discomfort and pain are lowered.

For the first few weeks it is best to sleep when you can, no matter what time of night or day that happens to be. If you are unable to stay asleep for a full night then taking naps is recommended, as sleep will help the body to heal faster.

If insomnia occurs there are some recommendations for bringing improvement. Reducing the consumption of stimulants and avoiding them completely in the evenings can be helpful in improving sleep. Avoiding caffeine before bed and after your evening meal can allow you to fall asleep faster and remain asleep longer. Selecting foods that will not cause abdominal or digestive discomfort will help make sleeping easier, as will engaging in a relaxing activity that eases any worries. Reading, meditating, watching a relaxing television show, doing a puzzle, and other activities can help to ease you to sleep and provide a full night’s rest.

Reduce the lighting in the area that you are sleeping, and especially reduce the screen time and the lighting from electronic screens, to communicate to your body that it is time to prepare for rest.

how to sleep after ACL surgery

Additional tips to help sleep after acl surgery

  • Use a cold compress to reduce swelling and pain after surgery, as that can make it easier to fall asleep. A cold compress can be applied to the knee for 20 minutes at a time and should be wrapped in a towel or something similar before being applied. If using ice it should not be directly placed in contact with the skin.
  • For ease of movement, it is recommended to sleep in a part of your house that has access to a bathroom and kitchen. This will reduce going up and down stairs and causing additional discomfort. With movement and mobility reduced after surgery, having easier access to the necessary rooms will also allow for some independence to be maintained.
  • Wear clothing that is easy to change and can allow the use of a knee brace as needed. Tight clothing around the legs may be difficult to put on without assistance until the knee can bend fully and has returned to its full range of motion.
  • A fiber supplement may be needed during the first few days or week after surgery. This will help to reduce the side affects of surgery, which can include constipation, swelling, and increased tiredness. Any form of discomfort can interrupt sleep, and this will create a longer and less comfortable healing process.

Next Steps

As time passes the swelling, pain, and limited movement will lessen. Then there may (at your doctor’s advice) be a decrease in both pain medication and any sleep aids that are being used, and the body will become less tired, allowing it to rest more easily for extended periods at night while staying awake during the days.

As movement improves and pain decreases after a few weeks you can return to sleeping in your regular bedroom even if it requires stairs, as well as a return to your favored sleeping position. Knowing that there will be a return to normal sleeping patterns can reduce stress and will improve outlook and mood, which can also improve sleep in the short term as well.

Reducing medication should be done under supervision of your doctor, and no medication should be stopped suddenly unless directed by the doctor in charge of your after care. This applies to both sleep medication and pain killers, but also to reducing or stopping the use of fiber or other temporary supplements that were in use.

Ensuring that all recommendations are followed and that a full night sleep is achieved as often as possible will help with the healing process and your return to full health after surgery. Our best wishes and sleep well!