How to Sleep after Gallbladder Surgery – 4 Tips From our Expert

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Gallbladder surgery is fairly common, yet those who need it might not know the basics of their surgery or the recovery afterward. The questions that come up can be hard to understand and difficult to ask, but the information is necessary for anyone going through surgery recovery. How do you sleep after gallbladder surgery? What things should be avoided to make the recovery as speedy as possible? What is gallbladder surgery in the first place?

What is Gallbladder Surgery?

Gallbladder surgery – medically known as a cholecystectomy – is the process of removing one’s gallbladder. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ on the right side of the body, just under the liver, that stores bile, a digestive substance made in the liver. Having it removed is a fairly common surgery, and often caused by issues such as gallstones, inflammation, or large gallbladder polyps. There are two types of procedures that can be used – laparoscopy and open surgery.

Laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgery that removes the gallbladder through four small cuts. Doctors use very small cameras to locate the gallbladder and then use special surgical tools to remove it. The procedure rarely has any complications, and the most common ones include bile leakage, bleeding, and infection.

These may require another day or two in the hospital, but even these include a very small amount of danger. There are some temporary side effects – pain, bruising, and sickness – but these are all lessened compared to the side effects of open surgery. Those who receive gallbladder surgery, and have no complications, are allowed to go home within the day and can go back to work anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

Open surgery is the traditional method of gallbladder removal. In an open surgery, doctors remove the gallbladder through one incision, and the patient spends at most 5 more days in the hospital, 3 days at the least. There is generally more pain with this type of surgery, and because of its more invasive nature it is less common. Open surgery also has a longer recovery time. It can anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks before one is able to return fully to normal life.

How to Sleep After Gallbladder Surgery

What happens in that period of recovery? One of the best ways to speed up the healing process is to get enough sleep. But with a healing scar, it can be hard to find safe and comfortable ways to sleep.

1.Sleep on back or left side

Before anything else, remember to sleep on your back or left side instead of your right. Putting pressure on the stomach or right side can increase discomfort in an already pretty sensitive area. Because the goal is to sleep in a position that relieves pain instead of causing it, sleeping on the back is the ideal position, along with using support pillows.

2.Get supporting pillows

Support pillows can be any pillow, but memory foam is recommended. These are used to support the knees, ankles, and stomach, as well as elevating the head. One of the common reasons to use a support pillow is to keep the hips and back aligned, which keeps the spine straight to relieve back pain.

Even though gallbladder surgery won’t cause back pain using support pillows is still recommended. They can help support the stomach, which is especially important. Lessening the pressure on the wound will relieve pain and make for a more comfortable sleep.

Using support pillows is one way to improve sleep, but there are several other solutions. Among those are white noise, blackout curtains, and essential oils, all of which are proven to have a calming effect and have helped many people find better sleep.

Another method is to lower the temperature – your body naturally cools down before you fall asleep. Along with that, calming your brain down beforehand will make falling asleep much easier. This can be done through breathing exercises, meditation, or calming music.

3.Use blue light

One important thing to remember is that blue light can affect sleep. Blue light comes from the sun and it helps your internal clock know when it is time to wake and fall asleep – it manages your circadian rhythm.

Blue light also comes from screens and can trick your body into feeling awake. Whether it’s by restricting phone use before bed or using blue light blocking glasses, it’s important to block out blue light before bed.

4.Sleeping schedule

Another tip to finding good rest after gallbladder surgery is to sleep when you are tired. It seems like a simple solution but this can mean taking several naps in the middle of the day along with getting a full night’s rest. This can be unsavory for some people who worry that napping will interfere with their ability to sleep at night, but after surgery, especially one that uses anesthesia, it’s important.

Anesthesia knocks you out, but doesn’t create natural rest. You can wake up exhausted and stay that way until the anesthesia wears off (which can be up to 7 days). The trauma of surgery to your body also contributes as you use more energy to heal. This leads to patients becoming tired after doing little physical work, and a major increase in the amount of sleep needed.

Things to avoid after Gallbladder surgery

Gallbladder surgery also comes with a lot of do’s and don’ts. Because of the nature of the surgery, there will be pain afterward and this usually means a prescription for pain medication. It is strongly recommended not to drink or drive while taking pain medication, meaning a close family member or friend will have to drive you to and from the hospital.

When taking pain medication, pay attention to how much you take and the time in between doses. Most importantly – listen to your body. You may need more medication at the beginning, but as you heal the time between doses will lengthen.

Even though it may be tempting, don’t spend all your time laying down. During the healing period, keep in mind what you put into your body and what you do. Most of the things we are regularly told that will keep us healthy are especially important during this time – drink plenty of water, exercise (as much as you are able), and eat healthy.

Exercising may be a struggle after surgery, but it is incredibly important to at least stand up and walk around. Part of this is to slowly return to normal activity. Doing a few errands or activities a day will help to keep your strength up and make it easier to return to work and normal life.

Doctors recommend a balanced diet with multiple food groups per meal to help you heal faster. Along with slowly increasing the amount of fiber in your diet (fruit, cereal, vegetables, and whole grains all contain fiber), increase the amount of liquid you drink.

This excludes drinks with caffeine, which sucks the moisture out of the body. It’s also important to stay away from fatty foods, such as fast food and high-fat dairy items. Eating small, more frequent meals instead of fewer large meals also helps.

Bathing in the first two weeks after surgery, or until the doctor says it’s ok,  could be problematic. Soaking the wound and the bandages could cause the wound to reopen, meaning it would take longer for it to heal. Instead, wait 24 – 48 hours after surgery to take a shower. At the same time, it’s recommended to gently wash the incision with warm soapy water before patting it dry.

Cleaning the incision regularly will keep infection out, but some patients have staples that need to be treated more gently. These can come out in around 7 – 10 days, but in the meantime keep the staples dry. The incision should stay mostly dry as well, and you can use gauze bandages to cover it after cleaning.

Conclusion

While having gallbladder surgery may seem frightening and painful at first, it is actually very safe and easy to take care of afterward. Between the minimally invasive nature of the surgery to the care taken afterward, the healing process instructions after gallbladder surgery are easy to understand and simple to carry out.

They depend on a few main principles – listen to your body, pay attention to your doctors, and take it easy. Following this advice should lead to a quick recovery without extra pain or stress.

Resources
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cholecystectomy/about/pac-20384818
  • https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/surgery-for-gallstones
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gallbladder-removal/recovery/
  • https://www.everlastingcomfort.net/blogs/comfy-reads/how-to-sleep-after-gallbladder-surgery#:~:text=Just%20make%20sure%20to%20sleep,abdominal%20area%20while%20you%20sleep.
  • https://kristiporter.me/2012/10/11/gallbladder-surgery-tips-and-tricks/
  • https://www.mattressnerd.com/post-op-sleeping-guide/
  • https://specialtysurgerycenter.org/best-sleeping-positions-after-surgery/
  • https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.gallbladder-removal-surgery-what-to-expect-at-home.ug3371
  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-fall-asleep
  • https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/about-your-gallbladder-removal-surgery
  • https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-ways-to-avoid-discomfort-after-your-gallbladder-removal

Written by: Dr. Zack

Garcia Dr. Garcia is one of the prominent doctors in field of sleep related disorders. He is also one of the writers for many online publications like Sleep Education and Sleep Research Foundation, focusing on the different kinds of Parasomnias and other related sleep disorders. He is awarded for is research in Work Effect of Insomnia.