How to Sleep After a Mastectomy

How to Sleep After a Mastectomy

Medically reviewed by Dr. Doug Blayney on April 8, 2024


Mastectomy is a type of surgery sometimes recommended for the treatment of breast cancer. When cancer has advanced within the breast or is present in multiple areas of the breast, the complete removal of the breast through mastectomy is usually  necessary to halt its progression. Getting enough restful sleep is really important for helping your body recover after a mastectomy. Sleep helps your body heal and regain strength. But sometimes, it can be hard to get a good night's sleep after surgery. You might feel discomfort or pain from the surgery site, or have trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep in. Emotional stress and worries about recovery can also keep you awake. I had a bilateral (double) mastectomy a decade ago, and I remember that finding a comfortable position to sleep was a challenge. Today we’ll walk through some tips to help you (or your loved one!) get a better night’s sleep after having a mastectomy surgery.

Understanding the Challenges

I once heard someone call a mastectomy an amputation. That made a lot of sense to me because all of a sudden you have an empty space where you once had a breast. Learning to live with this “new normal” can be really jarring at first, but it’s amazing how quickly you adapt to this new physical situation.

Post-Mastectomy Discomfort

After my mastectomy, I experienced discomfort like soreness and tightness in my chest area, which made it hard to find a comfortable position to sleep. Dealing with drain tubes was also challenging as they caused irritation and got in the way during the night. Emotional stress added to the difficulty, making it tough to relax and get a good night's rest.

The Role of Sleep in Recovery/ Why Sleep is So Important After a Mastectomy or Breast Surgery? 

Quality sleep is super important after mastectomy or breast surgery because it helps our bodies heal and makes us feel better overall. When we sleep well, our bodies can repair the tissues that were affected by surgery, like where the breast was removed, and this helps us recover faster. Plus, good sleep also boosts our mood and energy levels, making it easier to cope with the challenges of recovery and feel more like ourselves again.

Tips for Better Sleep After Mastectomy

We’ve put together some tips for sleeping after a mastectomy from our community. Be sure to comment below if we missed anything that really helped you get a better night’s sleep after a mastectomy surgery.

Optimal Sleeping Positions / Sleep on Your Back

After having a mastectomy, finding the right sleeping position can be tricky. Many doctors recommend sleeping on your back because it puts less pressure on the surgery area and reduces discomfort. When you sleep on your back, it helps keep your chest muscles relaxed and prevents any strain on the surgical site, promoting better healing. While it might take some getting used to, sleeping on your back can significantly improve your comfort and aid in your recovery process.

Using Supportive Products

After a mastectomy, sleeping on your back is often recommended to help with healing and comfort. Using pillows and special mattresses can make sleeping on your back easier and more comfortable. For instance, pillows placed under your knees can relieve pressure on your lower back, while a wedge pillow under your upper body can elevate you slightly, reducing strain on your chest. 

Sleeping on your back after a mastectomy is really important, especially in the first few weeks after surgery. This position helps your body heal better because it reduces pressure on the surgery area, making it easier for tissues to repair. It also helps lessen swelling and lowers the risk of accidentally hurting yourself while you're asleep. To make sleeping on your back more comfortable, you can try wearing a surgical bra, which provides extra support, and use pillows to elevate your upper body slightly. It's also helpful to keep your arms supported with pillows to prevent any strain on your chest muscles.

Creating a Restful Environment

Creating a restful environment in your bedroom after mastectomy surgery can really help with your recovery. To make your bedroom a peaceful place for sleep, try reducing noise by using earplugs or a white noise machine. Dimming the lights or using blackout curtains can also help signal to your body that it's time to rest. Keeping the temperature comfortable, not too hot or too cold, can make it easier to drift off to sleep. By making these small adjustments, you can create a cozy space that promotes restful sleep and supports your healing. I do realize that sometimes this is easier said than done, as when it’s quiet and restful, your mind can sometimes super-charge with anxiety. Make sure you ask for help with the emotional processing of your cancer experience, too!

Other simple, sleep hygiene techniques

Other simple techniques many people find helpful. Many people find that stopping caffeinated drinks (soft drinks, “soda pop,” coffee, etc.) after noon, can help getting to sleep at night.  During the day, don’t nap in your normal night time sleeping space; use your night time bed only for night sleep. This helps send your body clues that it’s time for night time sleep. Thinking pleasant thoughts or about one of the day’s positive accomplishments can also help with falling asleep at night. Also, rhythmic breathing, focusing on your breathing while counting to ten during each in and out breathing cycle may also be helpful.

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Navigating Complex Medical Conditions

The founder of Manta Cares, Samira, created the Manta Planner for herself as she was navigating her cancer experience. Check out this small, central place to take notes before and during doctor appointments, track your symptoms and other science-backed ways to help you while you are dealing with cancer (as a patient or if you’re caring with someone with cancer!). We also have a Manta Notebook that isn’t specific to cancer if you are dealing with other complex medical issues and need a place to stay organized and on top of things.

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Post-Mastectomy Care and Sleep

So what do you do when you just can’t sleep after you’ve had a mastectomy?! Here are a few suggestions that have worked for people in our community. Add any tips that have worked for you or a loved one in the comments below. We’re always looking for ways to make this experience even a little bit easier for all of us.

Managing Pain and Discomfort

After a mastectomy, taking care of yourself is really important, especially when it comes to managing pain and discomfort so you can get a good night's sleep. One helpful tip is to take any pain medication prescribed by your doctor before bedtime, so it has time to work before you try to sleep. Using pillows to support your arms and chest can also help ease discomfort by reducing strain on your muscles. If you're still feeling uncomfortable, gentle activities like deep breathing or listening to calming music before bed can help relax your body and make it easier to fall asleep. It's important to talk to your doctor about any pain or discomfort you're experiencing so they can help you find the best ways to manage it and get the rest you need to heal.

Exercise and Relaxation Techniques

Gentle exercises like stretching or walking during the day can help reduce tension in your body and make it easier to sleep at night. Before bed, try relaxation techniques like deep breathing or gentle yoga to calm your mind and relax your muscles. Listening to soothing music or to a meditation app can also help you unwind and get ready for sleep. Remember to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, and find what works best for you to promote better sleep and overall well-being.


Navigating life after a mastectomy surgery can be challenging, but taking care of yourself and getting quality sleep is crucial for healing. Managing pain and discomfort can greatly improve your ability to rest, so it's essential to follow your doctor's recommendations for pain management and utilize supportive tools like pillows. Additionally, incorporating gentle exercises and relaxation techniques into your daily routine can help ease tension and promote better sleep. Creating a peaceful sleep environment, free from distractions, is also important for restful nights. Remember, reaching out for support can make a big difference in your recovery process. Team Manta Cares is always here to help support you however we can! We’ve been there, we know it sucks, but we want you to know that you are not alone!


How should I sleep after mastectomy?

After a mastectomy, it's often recommended to sleep on your back to reduce discomfort and support healing. Using pillows to elevate your upper body slightly and support your arms can also make sleeping more comfortable.

What is the fastest way to recover from a mastectomy?

The fastest way to recover from a mastectomy involves following your doctor's instructions, resting well, and taking care of your body. It's important to eat nutritious foods, stay hydrated, and gradually increase your activity level as you feel ready. Be patient with yourself as everyone’s recovery process is different!

How long are you on bed rest after a mastectomy?

Typically, you may need to rest for a few days to a week after a mastectomy, depending on how you feel and your doctor's advice. It's important to listen to your body and gradually increase your activity level as you start feeling stronger.

How long after mastectomy can you lift your arms?

You might need to wait a few days to a week before lifting your arms fully after a mastectomy, as it can strain your surgical site. Your doctor will give you specific guidelines based on your healing progress and individual needs.

When can I sleep on my side after mastectomy?

After a mastectomy, it's best to wait until your doctor gives the okay before sleeping on your side, usually a few weeks after surgery to avoid discomfort.

What to do about trouble sleeping after mastectomy?

Trouble sleeping after mastectomy is common due to pain and adjustments, but using pillows for support can help improve comfort. 

When can I sleep on my side after mastectomy and reconstruction?

When you can sleep on your side after mastectomy and reconstruction depends on your healing progress, so it's important to follow your doctor's advice for your specific situation.

How long do you sleep elevated after mastectomy?

Typically, sleeping elevated for a few days to a week after mastectomy helps reduce swelling and discomfort, but your doctor will give you specific instructions.

When can I sleep without a bra after breast reconstruction?

Your doctor will let you know when it's safe to sleep without a bra after breast reconstruction, which can vary based on your healing process and type of surgery.

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