How To Sleep With Broken Ribs

How To Sleep With Broken Ribs (2024)

Last updated: 05.04.2024 Reading time: 7 Min. Liked by: 27

Sleeping with broken ribs can be a real challenge.

But we understand how important rest is for recovery, which is why we've created this guide to help you find relief.

We've got the best practical tips, sleeping positions, and pain management techniques for a comfortable night's rest.

So, let's get started. 👇

How to sleep with broken ribs

How to sleep with broken ribs

Rib injuries can be quite uncomfortable and interfere with good sleep, so you're likely asking yourself how to sleep with a broken rib.

But a few simple tips and tricks can help make your sleep more pleasant and restorative.

Let's take a closer look.

Limit your movements while sleeping

When we sleep, we naturally move and change positions.

However, excess movement can exacerbate pain and hinder the healing process.

moving to different sleeping positions
Limit movement as much as possible.

In the initial days following your injury, it's crucial to minimise movements like twisting or turning.

The best way to counteract this is by arranging your pillows in a way that supports your upper body and restricts unnecessary movement.

It may seem more intuitive to wrap your ribs to limit movements, but this should be avoided.

Wrapping your ribs could potentially increase your risk of complications, like a collapsed lung [1] or lung infections.

Use over-the-counter pain relievers

Over-the-counter pain meds are an effective way to tackle pain from rib injuries.

Woman sleeping with medication
Pain from rib injuries can be managed with over-the-counter pain medications.

Non-prescription painkillers, such as ibuprofen [2], acetaminophen [3], or paracetamol [4], can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, making it easier to rest comfortably.

However, you should always follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult your doctor before starting any new pain medication. 📝

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Please seek the advice of your pharmacist or GP before using pain medication.

Practise deep breathing exercises

Taking shallow breaths while sustaining a rib injury might seem like a good idea, but deep breathing exercises actually help alleviate pain and encourage proper lung function and circulation. 🫁

To perform these deep breathing exercises, find a comfortable position, breathe in slowly through your nose, and allow your chest and abdomen to expand.

Hold your breath for a few seconds before slowly exhaling through the mouth.

Repeating this process several times will help you relax and ease your discomfort.

4-7-8 breathing exercise
Simple breathing exercises can help you manage discomfort.

It's important to be gentle with your body during these exercises and always listen to its signals.

Stop immediately if you feel more pain, and consult your healthcare professional for guidance.

Use a heating pad or ice pack

Using a heating pad or ice pack can be an effective way to manage pain and discomfort.

Heating pads can help relax tense muscles around the injured area, reducing pain and promoting better sleep. 🌡️

While using the heating pad, make sure that it isn’t too hot to avoid burns.

You should also only use it for short periods to prevent overheating.

heat or ice pack

man putting compress on broken rib

Ice packs are also an effective way to reduce inflammation and numb pain, especially in the early stages of an injury. 🧊

When using an ice pack, wrap it in a thin towel to protect your skin from frostbite.

You should limit ice pack application to 20-minute intervals for the best results.

Support your injured side with pillows

By providing adequate support, you can minimise the pressure on your ribs, allowing them to heal more effectively.

One way to do this is to use extra pillows to prop up the affected ribs.

This can help relieve discomfort and allow you to maintain a more comfortable sleeping position.

We recommend using a body pillow, large V pillow, or special rib support pillows that mould to your body and provide targeted support to the injured area.

Woman sleeping with a body pillow
Body pillows offer targeted support to the injured area.

We've listed a few of our favourite support pillows below, which can help you get a better night's sleep.

Best sleeping positions for broken ribs

Adjusting your sleeping position can reduce pressure on the injured area and minimise pain during the night.

Of course, when sleeping with a rib injury, avoid lying directly on the injured side - doing so will put more pressure on the broken bones and cause further pain.

Instead, try sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees.

This position helps to maintain the natural curvature of your spine and reduces strain on your rib cage.

sleeping on your back with support pillow
Sleeping on your back with a little extra support can be helpful.

Another option is to sleep in a slightly elevated position, propping yourself up with a wedge pillow or sleeping on a recliner.

This angle can help reduce discomfort by taking weight off your ribcage and making breathing easier.

If you're adamant about sleeping on your side, you should lie on your uninjured side with a pillow between your knees - this will help align your spine and support your injured ribs.

You may need to experiment with different combinations of pillows and supports to find the most comfortable position for your particular injury.

The pillows below might prove particularly helpful for sleeping with a rib injury:

How to get out of bed with broken ribs

Getting in and out of bed with broken ribs can be difficult, but it can be done safely if you're careful and gentle.

Getting into bed with broken ribs:

  • To get into bed, sit on the edge of your mattress and hold your injured side away from the bed.
  • Slowly drop onto your side and gently swing your legs onto the mattress, using your arm for support.
  • Roll onto your back or into your preferred sleeping position, moving carefully and avoiding putting pressure on the injured area.

Reverse this process when getting up.

Getting out of bed with broken ribs:

  • Turn onto your side.
  • Gently swing your legs out of bed.
  • Move into a sitting position using your arms for support.

Remember to be gentle with yourself.

This is a time to rest and recover, and you really want to focus on your well-being.

Lighting a relaxation candle or using a pillow mist may also help you relax and sleep better:

What are the most common rib injuries?

Understanding your rib injury is essential for finding ways to sleep comfortably and safely.

We'll break down some common rib injuries below:

  • Broken ribs: This means the bone has been completely severed.
  • Fractured/cracked ribs: This injury includes partial breaks or hairline cracks.
  • Bruised ribs/intercostal muscle strains: This injury includes damage to the surrounding muscles and tissue, without the actual bone being broken.

But perhaps you're not sure if you even have a rib injury. 🤔

The infographic below lists a few of the most common symptoms:

symptoms of a broken rib
Broken rib symptoms include pain and tenderness in the chest.

Symptoms of rib injuries include severe pain, swelling, and difficulty breathing, which can significantly affect your ability to sleep well.

Swelling and inflammation around the injured area can worsen matters by causing discomfort and pressure on the surrounding structures.

When should you seek medical attention?

Recognising when you should seek medical attention or further broken rib treatment is crucial. 👩🏼‍⚕️

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it's a good idea to consult your doctor:

  • Persistent or worsening pain, including chest pain, despite following your prescribed treatment plan.
  • Increased difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath that doesn't improve with rest or changes in position.
  • Signs of infection, including redness, warmth, or pus around the injury site.
  • A sudden increase in swelling or the appearance of new bruising.
  • The development of a fever or chills, either of which could indicate an underlying infection.

Additionally, if you're unsure whether you're healing as expected, it's a good idea to contact your healthcare provider for a follow-up so you can discuss your broken rib injury recovery time.

It's always best to err on the side of caution and consult a professional - they can offer tailored advice and ensure you're on the right track to recovery.

So, what is the best way to sleep with broken ribs?

Dealing with rib injuries can be an uncomfortable experience, especially when trying to get a good night's sleep. 😴

Implementing some of the tips and strategies we've discussed above can greatly enhance your comfort levels and ensure safer, more restful sleep.

Most importantly, adjust your sleeping position and use supportive pillows to alleviate discomfort.

Also, remember the importance of managing pain, practising deep breathing exercises, and being cautious when getting in and out of bed.

With patience and care, you can successfully navigate your healing process and enjoy restorative sleep, even with broken ribs.

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the typical reasons for broken ribs?

    One of the most common causes of broken ribs is trauma or impact on the chest wall.

    This often occurs during events like a car accident or while participating in contact sports where there's a higher risk of direct hits to the chest. 🚘

    Another prevalent cause includes severe strain on the intercostal muscles [5], which are located between the ribs.

  • Why do broken ribs hurt more at night?

    If your broken ribs hurt more at night, this may be due to your sleeping position. 

    Putting pressure on your rib cage during the night can increase pain and slow down recovery time. 

    For more advice, follow the tips in our article on the best sleeping positions with broken ribs

    Knowing how to sleep with rib pain can aid recovery and healing. 

  • How can I monitor the progress of a rib injury?

    Keeping an eye on the progress of your rib injury is vital for ensuring proper recovery. 

    First and foremost, following your doctor's advice and recommendations for care and treatment is essential. 

    Regular check-ups and X-rays can help you and your doctor monitor the healing process and give your healthcare professional the tools to make necessary adjustments to your care plan. 

    Pay attention to any changes in your symptoms, such as increased pain, swelling, or difficulty breathing, as these may indicate a need for further medical attention. 

    Being patient during healing is essential, as rib injuries can take several weeks or even months to heal fully.

    Incorporating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and engaging in gentle movement or stretching can also aid healing.

  • How do rib injuries impact sleep quality?

    Rib injuries can significantly impact sleep quality due to pain and discomfort, especially when changing sleeping positions.

    The inflammation and swelling around the injured area may cause additional discomfort, making it difficult to find a comfortable position.

    Also, broken or bruised ribs may cause anxiety and stress, further disrupting sleep. 

  • Can I sleep on my side with broken ribs?

    Sleeping on your side with broken ribs is generally not recommended - particularly if you're planning on sleeping on the injured side.

    This may cause additional rib pain and discomfort, potentially hindering healing. 

    Instead, sleeping in an elevated position, propped up on pillows, can help alleviate pain and promote better breathing.

    If you must sleep on your side, try using extra pillows to support your injured side and create a cushion between your ribs and the mattress. 

  • Is a fracture of the sternum the same as a rib fracture?

    No, they are not the same.

    • A sternum fracture refers to a break in the breastbone located in the middle of your chest.
    • A rib fracture, in contrast, is a break or crack in one or more of the bones of the rib cage.

    Both conditions, however, are serious and require medical attention.

    The best way to sleep with a broken sternum is by sleeping on your back in an elevated position using a wedge pillow.

    You can also use a body pillow or put a pillow across your body to rest your arms on and reduce tension on your injured sternum. 

  • How to sleep with bruised ribs

    Like sleeping with broken ribs, the best way to sleep with bruised ribs is in a semi-upright position - at least for the first few days. 

    You can use a recliner, pillows, or a wedge pillow to assist you. 

    After a few nights, you can try sleeping on the unaffected side. 

    If you have pain while lying down on your back or side, we recommend sleeping with bruised ribs in an elevated position and using cushions or pillows for additional support. 

  • How to sleep with fractured ribs

    If you're looking for the best way to rest with fractured ribs, follow the tips in our article on sleeping with broken ribs.

    In a nutshell, though, you should sleep in an elevated position on your back and use pillows for additional support. 

    The article above will give more detailed advice on how to sleep with cracked ribs. 

  • References



Editor & Certified Sleep Therapist

Nicky is an experienced writer and editor with numerous qualifications. As a certified sleep coach, her interests lie in understanding how sleep problems arise from hormonal and environmental issues, particularly as part of stress and anxiety management.

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