How to Sleep With Broken Ribs

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One or more broken ribs can make even the simplest activities excruciatingly difficult. Sadly, sleeping is no exception. Many people find it hard enough to fall asleep and stay asleep as it is without the intense discomfort that comes with cracked or broken rib bones.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do for broken ribs aside from letting the healing process take its course. However, it is possible to alleviate nagging aches and get a good night’s rest while also making sure that your injury sorts itself out appropriately. Here’s how.

Sit Up

For the first few nights following your injury, prop yourself up on pillows rather than lying flat on your back. Ideally, you should adjust your makeshift backrest so that your torso forms roughly a 45-degree angle with your legs.

A recumbent position is far more comfortable than a prostrate one if you’re suffering from a side or back-body injury. In fact, many people with broken ribs find that their recliners are better suited for sleeping than their beds.

The reason for this is that sitting up takes some of the pressure of your body weight off of your ribs and transfers it to your lower half. This subtle but significant shift could mean the difference between more-or-less restful slumber and a long night of writhing and wincing.

As for the question of how long to sleep sitting up with broken ribs, you shouldn’t have to resort to this arrangement for longer than about a week. That said, there’s no downside to making it your go-to sleep setup for longer if it helps.

Use Pillows to Restrain Your Movement

Pillows are great for finding a more forgiving sleep position, but they’re also fantastic for helping you maintain that position throughout the night.

By tucking a couple of pillows up under your arms and packing them in tight alongside your body, you can be sure that you won’t accidentally toss, bend, or rollover in a way that leaves you dizzy with pain.

Don’t forget to stick a pillow beneath your knees, as well. Doing so will keep your legs locked in place and provide some much-needed support for your lower back, which may, in turn, lessen the degree of stress on your ribs.

Try Curling Up on Your Injured Side

If you’re a side sleeper, you may not need to do anything to modify your sleeping position.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it all goes back to the importance of immobilizing the break site—if most of your mass is centered over your ribs, that area will be less likely to move throughout the night.

Of course, this strategy is only advisable if it does more good than harm. Assuming your bad side is still too tender to let you settle, your best bet is to roll over to your opposite side or sit up with the aid of pillows or a recliner.

How to Sleep Better With Broken Ribs

Regardless of the particular posture, you elect to adopt, this trio of bedtime tips can help you spend less time lying awake and more time catching valuable Zs. Here’s how to sleep with multiple broken ribs (or just a couple). 

Take Pain Relievers Before Bed

When taken 30-60 minutes before turning in for the night, painkillers will take the edge off of your agony, allowing you to doze off faster and sleep more soundly.

If you went to the hospital after sustaining your injury, your doctor probably prescribed you a course of pain medication. Ensure you follow the usage instructions printed on the prescription label to the letter to avoid undesirable side effects or complications.

Suppose you’re nursing broken ribs at home. In that case, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium will be your best friend for the next few weeks.

Ice Your Ribs Regularly

As you’re no doubt already aware, icing serves to reduce both swelling and discomfort.

To begin an icing regimen, apply a cold compress to the fracture site for 20 minutes at a time. Do this once every hour that you’re awake for the first two days following the initial injury, after which you can cut back to three to four times per day as needed.

Time your final icing of the day to coincide with your dose of pain meds. Cold therapy and pain relievers make a potent pairing and could be the 1-2 punch that knocks out the worst of the throbbing, burning pangs that threaten to keep you awake.

Stick to Your Normal Sleep Schedule

Broken ribs can disrupt your day-to-day life in many ways. One thing you don’t want them to disrupt is your sleep routine.

Aim to clock a solid 7-8 hours of sleep per night while you’re on the mend.

Not only will you feel worse if you get less than that, but it will likely take much longer for your injury to resolve itself. Prolonged healing times mean more sleepless nights, and sleepless nights mean less efficient healing, creating a vicious cycle.

Sleep is absolutely vital for healing, so the more you can consistently get, the sooner you can get back to doing the things you want and need to do pain-free.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Broken ribs typically heal on their own within about three-to-six weeks. If it’s been longer than that and yours are still giving you problems, it may be a sign that something is wrong.

Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing lingering discomfort or having trouble breathing, walking, and performing other essential actions. Though they’re rare, severe rib fractures sometimes warrant surgery. 

The most common procedure for treating broken ribs is installing small plates or screws to stabilize and support the delicate bones as they continue healing.


Getting some much-needed shuteye with multiple broken ribs can be something of a feat, but it’s worth the effort involved.

Uninterrupted, quality sleep goes a long way towards accelerating natural healing. As long as you’re willing to work around your injury, treat your symptoms with pain relievers and cold therapy, and make rest a top priority, you’ll be back on your feet and feeling like your old self in a few short weeks.

Take care of yourself, and get some peaceful sleep if you can with these tips. 

Nate Devore
Nate Devore
For over 15 years Nate has been obsessed with solving his own personal and difficult health challenges related to sleep, energy, and fatigue. As one of our sleep experts at, Nate is passionate about helping you get the best night’s sleep possible.

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment. Always consult your doctor before making any decisions.

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