how to sleep after acl surgery

How to Sleep After ACL Surgery? Detailed Guide 2024

This guide aims to provide practical advice on how to sleep after ACL surgery, focusing on overcoming common challenges and ensuring a good night's sleep that supports your recovery.

Recovering from ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) surgery is a challenging period that requires careful management of activities, including sleep. The ACL is crucial for knee stability, and its repair is a significant surgical procedure that demands a meticulous recovery plan.

Sleep plays a pivotal role in healing, allowing the body to repair and rejuvenate. However, finding a comfortable sleeping position can be daunting due to the pain and discomfort following surgery.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    • Importance of Sleep in ACL Surgery Recovery
  2. Understanding Sleep Challenges Post-ACL Surgery
    • Common Challenges and Their Causes
  3. Preparation for Sleep
    • Creating a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
    • Choosing the Right Sleepwear
    • Bed Setup and Pre-Sleep Routine
    • Accessibility Considerations
  4. Best Sleeping Positions After ACL Surgery
    • Back Sleeping with Elevation
    • Side Sleeping with Support
    • Avoiding Stomach Sleeping
    • The Importance of Adjusting Positions
  5. Pain Management Strategies for Better Sleep
    • Medication Timing
    • Ice Therapy
    • Elevation Techniques
    • Relaxation Practices
  6. When to Consult a Doctor
    • Identifying Red Flags
  7. Conclusion
    • Encouragement and Recovery Outlook

Key Takeaways

  1. Sleep is Crucial for Healing: Quality sleep accelerates the healing process after ACL surgery.
  2. Create a Conducive Environment: A cool, dark, and quiet bedroom aids in better sleep.
  3. Optimal Sleeping Positions: Sleeping on your back with the knee elevated or on your side with support can minimize pain.
  4. Pain Management is Key: Proper use of medication, ice therapy, and elevation can alleviate discomfort for better sleep.
  5. Consult a Doctor When Necessary: Persistent pain, increased swelling, or signs of infection should prompt a visit to the doctor.

What are the Major Sleep Challenges After ACL Surgery?

Post-ACL surgery, patients often face several sleep challenges that can hinder their recovery process. These challenges primarily include:

  • Pain and Discomfort: The operated area remains sensitive, and finding a pain-free position is often difficult, leading to restless nights.
  • Swelling: Swelling around the knee can increase when lying down for extended periods, causing discomfort.
  • Limited Mobility: The reduced range of motion and the necessity to wear a knee brace or support can make adjusting positions in bed challenging.
  • Medication Side Effects: Pain relief medications prescribed post-surgery can affect sleep patterns, either causing drowsiness at unwanted times or difficulty sleeping.
  • Anxiety and Stress: Concerns about the recovery process, fear of damaging the surgical site, and overall discomfort can contribute to sleeplessness.

Understanding these challenges is the first step toward managing them effectively. The following sections of this guide will provide targeted advice to help mitigate these issues, ensuring that sleep becomes a restorative and healing part of the recovery process rather than a source of stress.

Preparation for Sleep

Adequate preparation for sleep can significantly impact the ease with which you fall and stay asleep. Here are some tips to prepare for a restful night:

  • Create a Comfortable Environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep—cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using blackout curtains and white noise machines if needed.
  • Choose the Right Sleepwear: Opt for loose, comfortable clothing that doesn't constrict movement or blood flow, especially around the surgery area.
  • Bed Setup: Modify your bed to suit your needs. Use a firm mattress that supports your body evenly and consider a bed wedge to elevate your leg if recommended by your doctor.
  • Pre-Sleep Routine: Establish a calming pre-sleep routine. This can include reading, deep breathing, or listening to soothing music. Avoid screens and anything that stimulates your mind too much before bed.
  • Accessibility: Keep essentials within reach—water, pain medication (as prescribed), and anything else you might need during the night to avoid unnecessary movement.

Best Sleeping Positions After ACL Surgery

Finding a comfortable sleeping position is crucial to avoid additional pain and ensure the surgical site heals properly.

  • Back Sleeping with Elevation: Lying on your back is often recommended. Use pillows under your knee to keep it slightly elevated, which can help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Side Sleeping with Support: If you prefer sleeping on your side, do so on the non-operated side. Place a pillow between your knees to keep your operated leg supported and aligned with your hip to avoid strain.
  • Avoid Stomach Sleeping: This position can put unnecessary pressure on your knee and should be avoided during the early stages of recovery.
  • Adjusting Regularly: Even in a comfortable position, try to adjust your position slightly every few hours to prevent stiffness and improve circulation.

Pain Management Strategies for Better Sleep

Managing pain is essential for achieving restful sleep during your ACL recovery. Consider the following strategies:

  • Medication: Follow your doctor's instructions regarding pain medication. Timing your dose for nighttime can help alleviate pain while sleeping.
  • Ice Therapy: Applying ice to the knee before bed can reduce swelling and numb the pain, making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Elevation: Elevating your leg above your heart level for 15-30 minutes before bed can help reduce swelling.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as guided imagery, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can reduce pain perception by relaxing the mind and body.

When to Consult a Doctor

While discomfort and sleep disturbances are common after ACL surgery, certain signs warrant a call to your doctor, including:

  • Persistent, Worsening Pain: Pain that doesn't improve with medication or over time.
  • Increased Swelling: Swelling that worsens or doesn't reduce after several days.
  • Signs of Infection: Increased redness, warmth, or discharge from the incision site.
  • Breathing or Circulation Issues: Difficulty breathing or changes in skin coloration around the operated area.


Recovering from ACL surgery is a gradual process, with sleep playing a critical role in healing. By understanding the challenges and applying the strategies outlined in this guide, you can improve your sleep quality and contribute positively to your recovery journey.

Remember, every individual's recovery is unique, so listen to your body and consult with healthcare professionals as needed. With patience and proper care, you'll be on your way to a full recovery.


Q: How long after ACL surgery should I keep my knee elevated when sleeping?

A: It's recommended to keep your knee elevated for at least the first few weeks post-surgery or as advised by your doctor.
Q: Can I sleep on my stomach after ACL surgery?

A: Stomach sleeping is generally discouraged in the early recovery stages to avoid pressure on the knee.

Q: What can I do if I accidentally turn onto my operated knee while sleeping?

A: Use pillows as barriers to prevent turning. If you find yourself on your operated knee, gently reposition yourself and use pain management strategies if discomfort increases.
Q: How soon can I return to my normal sleeping position after ACL surgery?

A: This varies by individual, but generally, when you feel comfortable and with your doctor's approval, which could be several weeks to months post-surgery.

Q: Is it normal to have difficulty sleeping after ACL surgery?

A: Yes, due to pain, discomfort, and medication, sleep disturbances are common but should improve with proper management.
Q: Can I use over-the-counter pain medication to help with sleep?

A: Consult your doctor before taking any additional medication, as they can advise on what's safe and effective for your situation.

Q: Should I wear my knee brace to bed after ACL surgery?

A: Follow your surgeon's advice, but generally, wearing your knee brace as recommended, even during sleep, is important in the early recovery phase.
Q: What signs should prompt me to consult my doctor regarding my sleep issues?

A: Persistent, worsening pain, increased swelling, or signs of infection should be discussed with your doctor.

Q: Are there any specific relaxation techniques recommended for post-ACL surgery recovery?

A: Techniques such as guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can be beneficial.
Q: How can I manage nighttime swelling?

A: Elevating your leg above heart level and applying ice before bed can help manage and reduce swelling.