How to Sleep With Broken Ribs & Get Comfortable

Ribs are one of the most vital bones in our bodies. They play a pivotal role in protecting key body organs such as the heart, liver, and lungs. Not to mention, they support most of the muscles in the upper body. That's why having broken ribs can make everyday activities, including sleeping, very painful.

You can try to distract yourself as much as possible during the day, but at night, the rib pain can become quite unbearable. Yes, your body relaxes while you sleep and releases hormones to help heal the bones. However, it's not going to be a painless process.

Here's the good news: there are various tactics you can use to sleep peacefully and pain-free with broken ribs. This article will take you through all you need to know about how to sleep with broken ribs, including how you can speed up recovery and get back to your normal routine.

What Causes a Broken Rib?

Because ribs play a protective role, they're designed to withstand a lot. However, sudden and severe blows to your back and chest can lead to rib fractures.

These can be the result of;

  • Hard falls
  • Getting CPR
  • Contact sports like football or rugby
  • Car accidents
  • Domestic abuse

Years of repetitive actions like kayaking or swinging golf clubs can also take a severe toll on your muscles and ribs. Repetitive trauma caused by the same forceful motions makes you more susceptible to rib fractures.

What Are the Symptoms of Broken Ribs?

One of the most common and persistent symptoms of a rib fracture is chest pain, especially when moving or breathing in. Coughing, sneezing, or laughing can also trigger sharp pains at the fracture location.

Depending on the site of the break, twisting or bending over your upper body can send sudden and sharp pains shooting from your body. In some cases, you may also notice swelling and redness or bruises on the skin around the break.

Often, broken ribs can cause difficulty taking deeper breaths and shortness of breath. A fractured rib can be quite challenging to tell apart from a bruised one. So, you need to make follow-up appointments with your physician to get the correct diagnosis and proper treatment. Meanwhile, it would help if you found the most comfortable and pain-free way of sleeping with broken ribs, which this article will cover below.

How Broken Ribs Affect Sleep Quality

When you have to go to bed with multiple broken ribs, you're also likely to deal with constant pain. And it goes without saying that pain is no friend for quality sleep. Depending on the severity of the injury and the type of rib that breaks, your lungs and heart may be at risk.

For instance, a severe break in one of the three upper ribs can easily damage the aorta and other blood vessels around the heart. Another potential complication of broken ribs is a punctured lung. A fracture around the middle ribs can cause a jagged bone edge to penetrate your lungs, which could potentially cause it to collapse.

On the other hand, a break in the lower ribs can puncture or cut the kidney, liver, or spleen. All these complications lead to severe pain, which negatively affects sleep. Studies show that patients dealing with pain take a bit longer to fall asleep, constantly experience sleep fragmentation and restlessness in general.

Sleep deprivation can be pretty dangerous even for a healthy person who isn't dealing with any injuries. For instance, poor sleep is often associated with;

  • Impaired cognitive functions
  • Hypertension
  • Increased anxiety
  • Weaker immune response

However, when it comes to injured ribs, lack of sleep has even more adverse effects. Research has it that sleep loss can actually heighten your pain sensitivity. This means that you might start experiencing more pain if you don't sleep well.

So, How Can You Sleep With Broken Ribs?

Sleeping with fractured ribs can be painful and stressful, mainly if you can't rest in your normal sleep position. To make it easier to sleep comfortably with a broken rib, you'll have to adjust your sleeping position and follow routines that can help reduce your pain before getting to bed. Also, don't forget to follow your physician's advice on controlling rib pain and reach out to them as soon as possible if you have a problem sleeping because of your bruised or broken ribs.

Some of the most effective ways of sleeping with broken bones on the rib cage include;

Learn to Sleep On Your Back

This is the best sleep position for people dealing with rib pains as it aids in weight redistribution and promotes neutral spinal alignment. So, sleeping on your back isn't likely to trigger tension accumulation and can help keep your rib pain levels to a minimum.

However, ensure that you go for the right mattress that can help you achieve healthy alignment—sleeping on your back calls for medium to medium-firm support. If you're a lightweight sleeper, you should stick to medium to medium-soft beds. Heavier individuals, on the other hand, might want to pick medium-firm or even firm models.

Generally, larger individuals need sturdier support, while petite folks require something soft that can help avoid painful pressure points. You can place a rolled towel or a small pillow under your knee to minimize tension from the lower back.

Sleep With Your Back Elevated

Sleeping with your back elevated helps improve blood flow and minimize swelling. One of the easiest ways of achieving these results is by using a wedge pillow. Although you can also stack a few regular pillows on top of each other and use them, a solid wedge model is the best option if you want sturdy and uniform support.

These types of pillows are primarily used in hospitals. In fact, they're the gold standard of post-surgery pillows. One fantastic thing about them is their flexibility. You can use wedge pillows for back sleeping at a 30° angle or put them vertically and use them while sitting for maximum ribs comfort.

Sleep On An Adjustable Bed Frame or in a Recliner Chair

In most cases, resting in a recliner chair doesn't put much pressure on your chest wall, even when sleeping with multiple broken ribs. Naturally, this reduces pain levels, thus helping you sleep much more comfortably. Using an adjustable bed can also do the trick.

It allows you to elevate the upper part of your bed, making it less painful and easier to sit up and sleep in a reclined position when you have fractured ribs in your back. Modern and advanced adjustable bed frames that enable you to elevate your foot section and assume a zero-gravity position will help you sleep comfortably with broken ribs. They distribute body weight more evenly, thus ensuring that pressure is moved away from the affected bones for greater comfort.

Build a Pillow Fortress

The main problem of sleeping with fractured ribs is moving while you sleep. Rarely do people wake up in the same sleeping position they fell asleep in. Moving and turning puts pressure on your injured ribs, thus leading to aggravated pain. Therefore, it might be time you consider surrounding yourself with pillows. But don't wrap your ribs to minimize movement, as this will only increase the risk of lung infections and collapsed lungs.

Placing pillows under your arms can prevent you from rolling to one side while you sleep. Plus, adding a pillow under your knees helps secure your position. Alternatively, you can place two pillows on your sides to act as barriers.

However, this alternative isn't suitable for everyone, so you might want to experiment with different setups. Remember to keep an extra pillow that you can brace against your fractured ribs during the night when you want to cough.

Note, although you can sleep on one side with a broken rib, only try this position if it doesn't cause pain. It's also wise to use extra body pillows to achieve maximum support and proper alignment.

Sleep While Sitting Upright

This is possibly the best way of sleeping when recovering from a broken rib. You may not be used to it, but sleeping in this position can help your cracked ribs heal quickly. The logic here is simple: sleeping on your side or back may exert unwanted pressure on your rib cage and spine. This, in turn, causes your ribs to ache, making it quite challenging to get out of bed.

Sleeping while sitting upright is the ideal posture for keeping your chest straight and helping you get up easily from your couch or bed. However, this position should be accompanied by support pillows tucked under your arms and beneath your head. Luckily, various products on the market can help you sleep comfortably while in this position.

For instance, you can opt for a chaise lounge chair, which comes with both an armrest and an adjustable position, a luxury your mattress can't offer. This chair performs more like a recliner, though it's a bit unique in its own way. Its supportive features allow you to lie at an elevated angle based on your preferred adjustment level.

Make sure your chair has armrests (especially if you're suffering from rib trauma), or else it won't provide the support you need. You might even end up falling from it. A backrest pillow is also vital as it enables you to attain maximum support and a perfect sleep position with a comfortable balance. Remember to keep your chest straight for proper breathing and coughing.

Practice Deep Breathing

Broken ribs may force you to take shallow breaths because of the pain linked to moving your chest cavity too much. And since broken ribs don't give lungs the needed support, you risk developing lung collapse and pneumonia unless you take deep breathing exercises.

To practice deep breathing, recline in a chair or lie on your back and slowly inhale deeply. Breathe in until your lungs are full(count to five as you inhale), and then exhale gently. As you breathe, try pulling the air down into your stomach with your diaphragm. It's usually wise to do this exercise once every two hours, but you can take deep breaths more often if you wish.

How Can You Reduce Pain While You Sleep?

Your physician should prescribe pain medications you should take before sleeping. It's wise to take the prescribed medication approximately half an hour before going to bed just to be sure that it will be working by the time you fall asleep.

Remember, some pain meds may make it a bit hard to stay asleep as they can cause sleep apnea. For instance, opioid medications like morphine and codeine can make you stop breathing, waking you up at night.

You can also try over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, but ensure you check with your doctor for a precise recommendation of what you should take and for how long. Don't take more or less than the recommended dosage.

Plus, if the pain persists while you're still on medication, don't hesitate to seek professional medical advice. If you're ailing from high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, liver disease, internal bleeding, or heart disease, confirm with your doctor whether you can use OTC drugs.

Another effective way of relieving rib pain is by applying ice directly to the affected area. Besides numbing the pain, this method can help reduce the swelling. You'll benefit more from using wrapped or covered ice packs for approximately 20 minutes every hour during the first two to three days after the injury.

A quick note: avoid using heat on the affected ribs, especially if there's swelling. This is because heat can increase blood flow to the injured area, making the swelling worse.

Other Remedies to Consider

In addition to the tips mentioned above for sleeping and dealing with broken ribs, you can employ other methods to ease the pain and speed up recovery.

Sleeping as Much as Possible

Sleep is vital for your body's healing process, so ensure you get a lot of rest. Try to sleep for about eight hours every night and take a nap during the day whenever you feel tired. Some of the best ways of making it easier to fall asleep include;

  • Ensuring your resting environment is cool, dark, and quiet
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine before going to bed
  • Refrain from eating at least 2 hours before you go to bed
  • Turn off all computers, TVs, tablets, and phones

Eating Healthy

Just like sleep, getting adequate nutrition from a balanced diet is also crucial to your healing process. After all, your immune system should be well-nourished to perform its task correctly. That said, make sure you consume enough vitamins, proteins, and minerals to assist in building and maintaining new tissues.

Eating dairy meals is especially vital as it contains calcium, a mineral effective at building bones. The best foods to get calcium include broccoli, kale, tuna, and salmon. Vitamin C from fresh fruits and veggies is another vital vitamin for bone healing because it participates in collagen synthesis.

Ensure you also consume food rich in potassium and iron. Potassium reduces calcium loss from your bones, while the iron is important for the health of your red blood cells.

Keep in mind that some patients can't incorporate all the nutrients from food. So, they may need supplements. If you fall in this category, check with your physician for the best options on the market.

Closing Thoughts

Evidently, dealing with broken ribs isn't a pleasant experience. It can turn into a nightmare scenario if you don't know how to handle it. But as soon as you know how to comfortably sleep with a fractured rib, the path to healing should be less intimidating. All you have to do is find the perfect sleep position, practice relaxation tactics, and choose the best treatment plan with your doctor.

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