How To Sleep After Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery

The Importance of Sleep After Surgery

Sleep is critical to our overall well-being, but it becomes especially important during the recovery from cervical disc replacement surgery. Cervical disc replacement surgery can relieve pain and restore mobility in patients with cervical disc issues, but soon after the procedure it may be difficult to get a good night’s sleep. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the challenges of sleeping after cervical disc replacement surgery and provide expert tips on how to sleep comfortably and pain-free during the first several days after surgery.


Challenges of Sleeping After Cervical Disc Replacement

Cervical disc replacement surgery is a delicate procedure that involves replacing a damaged cervical disc with an artificial one. Your spine surgeon will need to make structural changes to your spine, which may lead to discomfort until they heal. Let’s delve into the challenges patients typically face and explore effective strategies to overcome them.


Sleep Positions and Strategies


Recommended Sleep Positions Following Surgery

After cervical disc replacement surgery, it’s essential to adopt the right sleep positions to minimize strain on your neck and facilitate healing. Here are some recommended sleep positions based on the stage of your recovery:


Back Sleeping: In the initial weeks following surgery, sleeping on your back with a supportive pillow under your neck and head is often the best position. This position helps maintain proper spinal alignment and reduces pressure on the surgical site. However, for some it is often difficult to sleep on their back. If so, then you may sleep on your side. 


Side Sleeping: As your recovery progresses, you may gradually transition to sleeping on your side with the use of a supportive pillow between your knees. This position can reduce pressure on the neck while still providing comfort.


Sleeping Positions to Avoid and Why

While some positions are recommended, there are others you should try to avoid during the post-operative period:


Stomach Sleeping: It is generally advised to avoid sleeping on your stomach after cervical disc replacement surgery, as this position can strain your neck and disrupt the healing process.


Neck Flexion: Sleeping with your neck bent forward or backward should be avoided, as it can place undue stress on the surgical site and hinder the healing process. Try to keep your head in neutral position. 


Twisting or Turning: Avoid twisting or turning your neck abruptly during sleep, as this can lead to discomfort and potential complications.


Obviously, it is difficult to maintain a specific sleeping position throughout the night, but starting the night in the desired position, readjusting if you wake to find yourself in a less favorable position, and using supports such as pillows can help.


Using Supportive Sleep Aids

During your recovery, various supportive sleep aids can enhance your comfort and promote better sleep quality. These aids are designed to reduce strain on your neck and ensure a restful night’s sleep.


Cervical Collars: Your surgeon may recommend wearing a cervical collar during sleep to provide additional support to your neck and maintain proper alignment. Follow your surgeon’s instructions on when and how to use it.


Special Pillows: Investing in a cervical pillow specifically designed to support the neck can make a significant difference in your sleep quality. These pillows are contoured to cradle your neck and head comfortably.


Tips for Moving at Night

Moving during the night can be tricky after cervical disc replacement surgery, but there are some strategies to help you minimize discomfort and promote better sleep:


Gradual Position Transitioning: When changing positions in bed, do so slowly and deliberately to avoid sudden neck movements. Use your arms to support your head and neck as you adjust your position.


Stay Relatively Still: Try to stay as still as possible while sleeping to prevent unnecessary strain on your neck. If you need to change positions, do so with care.


Nighttime Pain Management After Surgery

Managing pain during the night is crucial for a peaceful and restorative sleep. Your surgeon may prescribe medications to help you cope with post-operative pain and muscle stiffness.


Medications and Their Timing

Follow your surgeon’s prescribed medication schedule diligently. Pain management medications and muscle relaxers may be necessary during the initial stages of recovery. Take them as directed. Try to stay ahead of the pain. In other words, it is better to maintain a pain-free recovery than to eliminate pain once it starts.


Can I use heating pads or ice packs to alleviate nighttime discomfort?

Using heating pads or ice packs can be helpful, but it’s essential to follow your surgeon’s recommendations. Heat can relax muscles and alleviate discomfort, while cold packs can reduce inflammation. However, use them with caution and avoid placing them directly on your surgical site.


Are there specific exercises to strengthen my neck muscles for better sleep?

Your surgeon or physical therapist may recommend specific neck exercises to help strengthen your muscles and improve your sleep quality. These exercises can aid in reducing stiffness and promoting better neck support. However, no neck exercises should be done within the first two weeks after surgery and not until you have been cleared to do so by your spine surgeon.


FAQs About Sleep After Cervical Disc Replacement


How long does it typically take to resume normal sleep patterns after surgery?

The timeline for returning to normal sleep patterns after cervical disc replacement surgery varies from person to person. Generally, you can expect some disruption in your sleep for a week or two after cervical disc replacement surgery. However, cervical disc replacement tends to reduce or eliminate the pain you had prior to surgery, so you may find that your sleep quality improves rather quickly after surgery.


Are there any warning signs of complications related to sleep post-surgery?

While some discomfort and sleep disturbances are normal during the initial recovery period, be aware of some warning signs: increased pain, fever, numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, numbness or tingling in the legs, or difficulty swallowing. If you experience any of these issues, contact your surgeon promptly or seek urgent medical help.


Should you sleep in a recliner after neck surgery?

Sleeping in a recliner can be a comfortable option during the early stages of recovery, as it allows you to maintain a semi-upright position, which can reduce strain on your neck. However, it’s essential to consult with your surgeon for specific guidance on whether a recliner is suitable for your individual case. You may need to use a cervical collar while sleeping in a recliner to support your head and neck during sleep.



In conclusion, getting a good night’s sleep after cervical disc replacement surgery is essential for your overall recovery and well-being. By following the recommended sleep positions, using supportive sleep aids, and effectively managing nighttime pain, you can significantly improve your sleep quality during recovery from cervical disc replacement surgery.


Dr. Lanman, a renowned expert in spinal surgery and artificial disc replacement, is committed to obtaining the best possible outcomes for his patients. If you’re considering cervical disc replacement surgery, be sure to ask Dr. Lanman and his team for personalized guidance on how to get the best post-operative care including strategies to help you get the best, most restorative and healing sleep possible after cervical disc replacement surgery.

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