Ten tips for sleeping after breast cancer surgery from women who recovered from double and single mastectomies, research studies, and breast cancer recovery forums. This information will supplement the mastectomy recovery information your oncology surgeon or hospital will give you.
If you aren’t at the mastectomy recovery stage yet, read How to Sleep in a Hospital – 8 Tips for Patients. Making sure you’re well rested before the mastectomy is almost as important as these tips for sleeping after surgery! And, some of those tips for sleeping in a hospital will help your mastectomy recovery.
Research Tips for Sleeping After Surgery
The first two tips for mastectomy recovery are from an annual meeting of anesthesiologists. They aren’t specifically for breast cancer surgery, but they might help you sleep after the operation.
We’re starting light and easy, and moving into the more serious tips for sleeping after a single or double mastectomy. I also included links to various sleep products on Amazon.com, to make it easy for you to buy whatever you need for the recovery process.
1. Listen to jazz during your recovery
Patients who had elective hysterectomies and who listened to jazz music during their recovery experienced significantly lower heart rates, according to a study presented at the Anesthesiology 2014 Annual Meeting. The thought of having a mastectomy and the fears associated with anesthesia creates emotional stress and anxiety for many women. Your oncologist surgeon will give you pain relief medication right after the mastectomy, but some of the medications can cause significant side effects. Research shows that jazz can slow your heart rate and help you sleep, and perhaps even reduce the need for pain medication.
2. Wear noise-cancelling headphones – or sleepPhones
The anesthesiologists who found that jazz music helps with recovery also found that silence can be crucial after a mastectomy. Patients who wore noise-cancelling headphones had lower heart rates and less pain after surgery. These research results offer hope that patients who listen to music or experience silence while recovering from surgery might need less pain medication, and may be more relaxed and satisfied.
Wireless Sleep Headphones are headphones built into a luxuriously soft headband made with hypoallergenic, machine-washable fabric. SleepPhones contain an ultra-thin, padded, and removable internal stereo headphone system, which is Bluetooth-enabled.
If you’re researching mastectomy recovery sleep tips for someone you love, read 17 Gift Ideas for Women After Mastectomy Surgery. All of those gifts help women heal after breast cancer surgery.
Mastectomy Recovery Tips From a Breast Cancer Group
The following tips for sleeping after breast cancer surgery are from the women of the Gainesville Breast Cancer Support Group . They offered recollections of their experiences, fears, and questions as they recovered from surgery. The link to the full report – called “Recovering from a Lumpectomy or Mastectomy” – is at the end of this blog post, in the resources section.
3. Learn what makes it difficult to sleep after surgery
Ignorance isn’t bliss! One of the best mastectomy recovery tips is to know what you’re facing after surgery. You’ll have tubes and spheres that help drain fluid from the incision, and from your armpit if your axillary lymph nodes were removed. The hospital or oncology surgeon will give you instructions on how to empty the spheres several times a day and measure the output.
The point at which the tube enters your skin is tender, which can make the process of emptying the tubes uncomfortable. For the first few days, it also may be difficult to move the affected arm properly. The drains will be removed in the surgeon’s office when they no longer collect much fluid—usually one to two weeks.
The key for sleeping after surgery is to find a position that is comfortable and painless. The best sleeping position when you’re recovering from a mastectomy may be to sleep on your back.
4. Plan to sleep on your back after the mastectomy
“I surrounded myself with pillows on both sides, which cushioned me nicely,” said a patient after breast cancer surgery. “Also, for a few nights, my husband slept in the other room so as to avoid accidentally bumping me in the night.”
Contours’ Back Wedge With Massage Sleep Pillow will help if you don’t naturally sleep on your back. This sleep pillow has a two-layer-design: it is made of 1″ memory foam top layer plus a firm base foam for better comfort. It’s more expensive to manufacture a bed pillow like this, but it offers more benefits. You get the more comfortable, soft feel of the cushion with a firm base foam that provides support. This pillow helps you stay in the same sleeping position all night, which will help with mastectomy recovery and sleeping after surgery. It also helps with acid reflux, snoring, poor circulation, back or neck problems, allergies or any other condition which breathing may be impaired when you’re lying down. This pillow isn’t just for breast cancer recovery – you might find yourself using it long after the mastectomy is but a hazy dream! Or nightmare.
4. Experiment with different sleeping positions
One woman recovered from her mastectomy faster by using a pillow to prop up her affected arm for comfort. A large body pillow may help if you are a side sleeper. Another mastectomy survivor slept on her side with a pillow to hold up her arm. If you’re a side sleeper, you may need several pillows to prop up your body so you’re comfortable. Memory foam pillows are ideal, but traditional or other types of pillows may keep you propped up.
Another possibility for sleeping after surgery is an Elevated Leg Rest Pillow. This lowers tension in the lower back, and helps you stay sleeping on your back the whole night through.
5. Put a step stool by your bed
Getting in and out of bed could be difficult at first. You might be able to roll onto the unaffected side in the second week, if you have somewhere to put your arm (you may not want to rest it on your sore side). The healing side may take several months to a year before you can roll on it.
White Step Stool is durable and has anti-slip rubber feet, so it won’t go sliding when you get out of bed.
“Getting out of bed for the first time after surgery was torture,” said one woman after her mastectomy. “I felt like I was plastered to the bed and could not sit up.” A small stool by your bed may make your mastectomy recovery easier, but be careful that it’s stable. The last thing you need is to fall off your bed after a sound night of sleep after surgery!
6. Be generous with the pain medication?
This is a mastectomy recovery tip is from a breast cancer survivor, but I hesitated to include because I don’t want to encourage dependence on drugs. That said, however, her followup advice makes a lot of sense…
“Do not short yourself on the pain meds,” said one patient. “You cannot heal if you are in substantial pain. Also, under-medicating your pain may lead to guarding of the sore areas and poor posture, which can, in turn, cause other problems.” If you’re worried about becoming dependent on pain medication –which I would be – take full dose that the doctor’s prescription allows.
The doctor will give you guidance on when you have the option to switch to an anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. The reason that you need to wait a few days is because these drugs have anti-clotting properties, and you don’t want the surgical sites to bleed.
7. Use cold packs to help you sleep
The tissue around your breasts and arms will be traumatized tissue, which puts out the heat. A mastectomy recovery tip that can help with sleeping after surgery is to wear two lightweight cotton sports bras, and slip a cold pack in between them. You can use the cold packs during the day, even when you’re out in public. Or you can sleep with them at night with a very soft, silk camisole.
The ColPaC Brand Cold Pack is filled with a non-toxic silica gel that remains pliable throughout use. It delivers up to 30 minutes of soothing cool relief from acute pain, swelling and fever. Latex free, this cold pack is designed for heavy clinical use and comes in four different sizes.
If you don’t have a mastectomy bra, make sure you get one that has antimicrobial protection inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew to keep you fresh and cool. The Mastectomy Bra is soft, comfortable, adjustable, and supportive.
For more tips for sleeping after surgery – which will also help with mastectomy recovery – read 10 Natural Sleep Remedies to Help You Fall Asleep Fast, here on the Sleep Blog. Be very careful not to take natural herbal supplements for sleep unless you talk to your doctor first. Even the most natural sleep aids might interact dangerously with the pain medications prescribed for your doctor for mastectomy recovery.
Sleep Tips From a Breast Cancer Forum
The following tips for are from a forum post called “Sleeping after a double mastectomy surgery” on BreastCancer.org. The link to the forum is in the resources list at the end of this article.
8. Rent a hospital bed for mastectomy recovery
“I rented a hospital bed for my recovery,” says a breast cancer survivor. “None of our recliners were comfy at all, plus I couldn’t reach the controls. And I couldn’t get out of our Tempurpedic bed without using my arms.” She put a memory-foam topper and mattress pad on the hospital mattress, raised up the back and raised it up under the knees so she could sleep on her back. She was surprised at how comfortable it was, as sleeping on her back is usually very uncomfortable because of other health conditions.
She added that getting in and out of bed was so easy. She just lowered her knees, raised the back all the way up, and lowered the whole bed if needed. She even made her own bed while recovering from her mastectomy by raising it all the way up.
9. Consider buying an over-the-bed table
Since lifting and using your arms may be difficult after a mastectomy, you may want to get an over-the bed table. This is exactly a tip for sleeping after surgery, but it may help your recovery process.
The Carex Overbed Table will make it easy for you to eat, write, or do projects while in bed or sitting on a chair. It’s made of durable and lightweight plastic, and easily adjusts for different heights.
If you don’t want to buy an over-the-table bed, you might try rigging one with a bed table. Make sure you don’t move it around yourself – get someone to place it in the right spot for you.
10. Get slippery pajamas
Slippery pajamas or satin sheets will help you get in and out of bed. “I also use a travel pillow when I sit on my chair, so my head doesn’t fall forward,” said this breast cancer survivor. “I also use my travel pillow for breathing exercises. Best of all, when I sleep with my travel pillow it allows me to turn my neck far left or far right, which gives me a mock side sleeping feeling.” She found a way to feel like she’s sleeping on her side while sleeping on her back.
Pampering yourself with a Smooth Satin Nightgown isn’t just a luxury after a mastectomy, it’s a practical tip for sleeping after surgery. Find nightwear that is restful, flows smoothly, and won’t get wound up around your drains. I wouldn’t get pajamas because of the legs – it may be too difficult to put them on. The more you rest your arms, the better.
What have I missed?
If you’ve recovered from a double or single mastectomy, how did you sleep? I welcome all comments, big and little, below. I’ve had gall bladder surgery and laser eye surgery, and didn’t have a problem sleeping…but breast cancer surgery is a whole different beast.
Resources: 1) Study Shows Jazz and Silence Help Reduce Heart Rate After Surgery the Anesthesiology 2014 Annual Meeting; 2) Recovering from a Lumpectomy or Mastectomy from the University of Florida by Professor M.C. Monroe and oncologist B. F. Shea from the Wentworth-Douglas Hospital in Dover, NH; and 3) Sleeping after a double mastectomy on BreastCancer.org.