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Better Sleep After the Surgery: What Should You Do?

Sleep disturbance after the surgery is very common. The factors that play a significant role in sleep disturbances after the surgery are:

  •       Preoperative co-morbidities
  •       Anesthesia
  •       Severity of the surgical trauma
  •       Post-surgical pain
  •         Environmental stress

These sleep disturbances produce harmful effects on the patients that can even lead to:
  •         Increased sensitivity to pain
  •         Higher risk of delirium (disturbance in mental abilities)
  •         Poor recovery

Normal Sleep Structure:

Before we go deeper into what can be done for better sleep after the surgery, let’s first understand how is the normal sleep structure like?

Sleep occurs in different stages, the two major ones are Non-Rapid Eye Movement (Non-REM) sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Non-REM sleep has four stages, of which the 3rd stage is commonly referred to as "deep sleep" or “slow-wave sleep” (SWS). In the case of adults, the non-REM sleep accounts for 70-80% and REM sleep accounts for 20-30% of the night.

“Normal sleep time” varies from person to person. The average sleep is around 7.5 hours a night, but few manage with 5 hours a night, while some require 9 hours of sleep a night.

Sleep disturbances after surgery:
Often patients develop sleep disturbances immediately after the surgery, most likely after major surgery.
Common sleep disturbances include:
  •         Sleep fragmentation (repetitive short interruptions of sleep)
  •         Sleep Deprivation (insufficient sleep or sleeplessness)
  •         Decrease or loss of REM and SWS sleep

Patients report lowered sleep quality, increased awakenings or arousals, decreased sleep time, and frequent nightmares. However, as days pass by, the sleep pattern gradually returns to normal.

Factors that cause sleep disturbances after surgery:

Pain: Pain is the predominant factor responsible for sleep disturbances. It is obviously very hard to sleep when experiencing pain even while moving during sleep. Pain hampers the deep sleep to a great extent.

Frequent waking: If you are recovering in the hospital, nursing intervention may bother you. The staff may wake you up every few hours for your vital signs whether you are sleeping at the night or during the day.

Preoperative co-morbidities: Patients with the preoperative higher apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) exhibit greater risks of postoperative sleep disturbances. Moreover, preoperative heart diseases are also associated with worse sleep quality post surgery.

Longer surgeries: Longer procedures often require more attentive care; longer hospital stay, more anesthesia and medications which in turn will result in poor sleep patterns.

Type of Anesthesia: Most sedatives and analgesic agents act on several regions of the brain that are involved in the initiation and maintenance of natural sleep. Since sleep and anesthesia both share the same pathway for a biological mechanism, they impact each other significantly.

Age: Sleep structure changes with age. The elderly find it more difficult to adjust their sleep with environmental changes. According to a study, older age is associated with low sleep efficiency and a higher apnea-hypopnea index (AHI).

Environmental factors: Factors like lights in the ward, noise and disturbances from healthcare staff or other patients also disturb sleep. Moreover, several types of discomforts such as nausea, fevers, anxiety, needing to use toilet facilities can also lead to sleep disturbances.

Effects of Sleep Disturbances Surgical Outcomes:

Sleep disturbances can lead to:
  •         Development of postoperative delirium
  •         Increased sensitivity to pain
  •         Increased risk of cardiovascular events in high-risk patients
  •         Significantly poor impact on the recovery

 Tips to improve your Sleep after Surgery:

             It is important to pinpoint or list down the issues that prevent you from sleeping. 

  •     The sleep mask may provide you great comfort if you have trouble with the ambient light. 
  •     If you are struggling with the staff or patient noise, wearing earplugs might help you. Moreover, it is perfectly okay to ask the staff concerned or patients to decrease their noise levels. 
  •     If you suffer from sleep apnea or snoring issues, you may get a restful sleep by sitting or partially lying down with extra pillows supporting your back. Change in your head position can decrease these symptoms. 
  •     If the prescribed medications are interfering with your sleep pattern, feel free to ask your doctor to adjust the dose or switch to any other drug. 
  •      Never alter or stop the prescribed treatment without discussing the same with your doctor. 
  •     Most importantly, never use sleeping pills without your doctor’s consultation as these pills carry the risk of dependency. 
  •     Do not hesitate to change the thermostat, if you are not able to fall asleep due to the temperature.
  •      If you feel anxious or nervous, talk to your companion or the staff.
  •           You should avoid too much napping during the day. 

 A word from IndiCure:

Sleep is extremely important not only for a smooth and better recovery but for maintaining both physical and mental health.  Quality sleep is an essential part of self-care post surgeries. It helps to speed up the healing process and also lowers the associated stress.

If you face any problem with regards to sleeping well after your surgery in India, please do not hesitate to speak with your treating doctor and caregiver. 

We are there to help you with anything you would need while on your medical trip to India. 

Patients from 40+ countries trust IndiCure for their medical treatment in India. We, therefore, understand your requirements well. For more information, you can write to us at or call us at +91-9320036777 (India) or +1-877-270-2448 (US Toll-Free)