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How to Sleep With Broken Ribs: 10 Tips for a Restful Night

How to sleep with broken ribs

How to sleep with broken ribs

How to Sleep With Broken Ribs

When you have broken ribs, it can be very challenging to sleep on your back or your side. This can make sleeping pretty difficult, and getting enough rest is crucial to a proper recovery. Learning to manage your pain relief, and mastering the technique of sleeping upright are just two ways to achieve a more restful sleep with broken ribs. Here are ten tips to minimize your pain and maximize your comfort to improve your quality of sleep to recover faster.

1. Try Sleeping Upright for the First Few Nights

Having broken ribs is a very unpleasant experience, but they will heal faster if you take proper care of yourself. Try to sleep more upright for the first few nights after your injury: sitting up while you sleep rather than lying flat on your back on the bed can allow your ribs to heal more quickly. You can use pillows to help you sit up in bed or sleep in a reclining chair to adjust your comfort. Using a pillow that is soft and comfortable can also help you get a more restful sleep.

2. Rib Pain May Get More Intense When You Lie Down

Lying down while you sleep could put undue pressure on your spine, which could then affect your broken ribs. If you sleep directly on your rib cage at night, pressure is applied to the injury, which can be very painful indeed. Plus, your breathing may become strained, which can also make the pain more intense.

If you must sleep in your bed, you should avoid sleeping on your stomach. Instead, try to fall asleep on your side. This may make it easier for you to breathe and rest. If you have to sleep on your back, use a pillow between your legs to prevent your body from curling inward.

3. Apply a Cold Compress Before You Go to Sleep

Sleeping with a broken rib can be difficult and uncomfortable, and a broken rib can cause pain when you move or breathe. So if you can relieve some of the pain before you try to sleep, you will have a more restful night.

Try holding an ice pack on your side for a few minutes before you lie down. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to prevent the cold from hurting your skin. Then apply a compress to your ribs. You can hold it against the area while you take a few deep breaths to try to relieve some of the pain.

4. Take a Pain Reliever

If you have broken ribs, it can be difficult to know what to do to get relief from the pain. Taking prescribed medication before retiring to sleep is crucial if you want to get restful sleep.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol or Advil can help you find some relief during the night as well: Tylenol relieves pain because acetaminophen prevents your brain from releasing chemicals that make you feel pain. It is therefore helpful for easing minor discomfort. Advil, on the other hand, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that also contains ibuprofen. It works by preventing your body from producing inflammatory substances, so it effectively helps to reduce pain and swelling. If your doctor agrees, you may be able to take Tylenol and Advil at the same time; however, it is crucial to consult with a medical professional before taking any pain-relieving medication.

An X ray showing multiple broken ribs

An X ray showing multiple broken ribs

5. Apply a Heating Pad to Increase Circulation

If you are experiencing pain from broken ribs, you may feel more comfortable resting with a heating pad. Place the heating pad on the area of your body that hurts the most, and use it for 20 minutes before you go to sleep. This will help you fall asleep faster, and you will feel more comfortable while you sleep. You may want to consider operating the heating pad on the lowest possible setting because if it gets too hot, it could cause you further discomfort.

If you have questions about applying heat to your broken ribs, make sure to speak with your doctor. He or she will be able to provide you with all the information that you need about how to heal from a broken rib and take care of your body.

6. Pillows May Make Sleeping More Comfortable

To protect your rib cage while you sleep, have lots of soft pillows around you. They can be used to support your body while you sleep and to surround you with a barrier that prevents nighttime involuntary movements.

You'll want to place a small pillow behind your neck. Your head will be able to move a little backward as a result, which may help you nod off. If you like, you could also try rolling up a blanket or towel and placing it behind your lower back if you want to try sleeping upright. Your lumbar region will receive additional support in this way, which will lessen soreness from your broken ribs.

7. Hold a Pillow Against Your Chest if You Need to Cough

Experts recommend that if you have broken ribs, you should try to cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once every hour, even if it hurts. This will allow air to enter your lungs deeply and may lower your risk of developing pneumonia or partial lung collapse.

You may want to consider doing this exercise before getting comfortable enough to sleep. To make it less painful, rest a pillow against your chest. Hold a pillow or towel against your ribcage and lean slightly forward. Hugging a pillow is meant to shield your body from pain. Cough, and then slowly exhale.

If you feel the need to cough during the night, try to sit on the edge of your bed or chair and lean forward to cough. Hold your pillow against you to minimize any discomfort.

Hold a pillow against your chest if you need to cough

Hold a pillow against your chest if you need to cough

8. Keep as Still as Possible During the Night

To sleep well and keep your rib pain to a minimal level, it's crucial to make an effort to remain still during the night and not move around too much. It will take about six weeks for your broken ribs to naturally heal, and getting proper rest is critical for that to happen.

You'll need to refrain from physically demanding activities that might aggravate your rib injuries for a while. However, during the day, taking a few steps around and moving your shoulders throughout the day is healthy to keep circulation moving. This ensures that you don't feel any additional discomfort near your ribs, of course.

But, to sleep well with broken ribs, try and keep night-time movements to a minimum.

9. Practice Deep Breathing Exercises

When you have broken ribs, you have difficulty breathing because your rib cage is injured. Most people who suffer from this condition experience pain when they take a breath. Deep breathing exercises can help you breathe more easily when you have broken ribs. They can also reduce your pain. WebMD has some excellent suggestions for exercises to do during recovery from a broken rib.

10. Get as Much Rest as Possible

The healing process for broken ribs requires a lot of rest. If you have broken ribs, you should rest as much as possible and avoid doing anything that causes pain. This will help your body repair the broken ribs and heal faster. Avoid physical activities that cause pain and anything that puts pressure on your chest. Sleeping upright or on your side with plenty of pillows will help you sleep well and relieve pain.


Knowing how to sleep with broken ribs can be challenging at first, but by managing your pain - through the use of medication, ice packs, heating pads, and by resting in a comfortable upright position with lots of pillows - you should be able to get some restful sleep. Remember to stay as relaxed as possible by using deep breathing techniques. Be sure to consult with your doctor before taking any medication, and follow up with medical professionals as advised.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Broken or bruised ribs - NHS
    Read about how long it takes injured ribs to heal, how to look after yourself until you're feeling better, and when you should get medical advice.
  • Rib fracture - Wikipedia
    A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone. This typically results in chest pain that is worse with inspiration. Bruising may occur at the site of the break.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Louise Fiolek