5 Expert Tips For Sleeping Better After Aesthetic Procedures
The term ‘beauty sleep’ takes on a whole new meaning after a tweakment or cosmetic procedure, as catching your ZZZs is vital to the healing process. Regardless of whether it’s something on the surgical side (like a breast augmentation or facelift) or minimally invasive (think: dermal fillers and neurotoxin injections), taking care in how you hit the hay can help minimize swelling, bruising, and speed up the recovery process.
In a world that’s increasingly obsessed with getting quality REM sessions in, we now know a lot about the best ways to effectively combine good sleep habits and care to minimize side effects and complications and get to your coveted “after” shot faster. Here, the best P.M. tips to ensure you wake up on the right side of the bed after an aesthetic procedure.
1. Find the Right Sleep Position
The ideal position you sleep in after a procedure is dependent on the area worked on:
If you anticipate swelling after a facial surgery or procedure, you’ll want to sleep on your back in the “semi-fowler” position — a 45 degree elevation of the head and torso — for at least a week to allow for proper lymphatic drainage. “Many patients build a crib of pillows around them so that they do not flip over, while others have used a ‘body’ pillow to stabilize them while sleeping,” says Melissa Doft, MD, a double board certified plastic surgeon in NYC.
If you’re a staunch stomach sleeper whose will is unlikely to overcome the tendency to roll over, Jennifer MacGregor, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC, suggests investing in a post-surgical neck-support pillow that keeps you on your back. Her pick: The CosMed Recovery Pillow, which she says works particularly well for patients who have facial surgery (aesthetic or skin cancer-related) and ablative laser resurfacing.
It may take a few pillows and some determination, but Suzanne Trott, MD, double board certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, can say from first-hand experience that it’s worth it. “When I had work done on my face, I was sure that I wouldn't be able to handle sleeping on my back, but I did,” she shares. “And if I can do it, anyone can because I'm one of those people that normally has to sleep curled up on my side in the fetal position.”
For work done below the neck, how you should sleep depends on which side of the body was treated. If it’s on the back side, like a Brazilian Butt Lift, the docs we spoke to say you’ll want to sleep on your stomach. For procedures on the front of the body, it’s less straightforward.
- Upper Body Procedures: After procedures on the upper torso (like a breast augmentation) the same front-up, 45 degree angle pose recommended for face work is ideal.
- Lower Body Procedures: For surgeries that involve the torso and below (like abdominoplasty), Dr. Trott recommends a week in the semi-fowler position, but with the body in the shape of a ‘W’ with the bed and knees flexed with pillows under them.
And then there’s a procedure category that gets to choose its own adventure. “If my patient has had a liposuction only, they can really sleep any way that they are most comfortable,” Dr. Trott says. Enjoy the freedom, and don’t be alarmed if you wake up to some swelling in the beginning. “[Patients] just need to understand that the swelling will ‘pool’ in the most dependent places,” she cautions. So, don't be freaked out when you wake up in the morning and the dependent side is fuller — it’s just temporary.
2. Kick Your Feet Up
No matter what kind of work you had done, use your recovery as an excuse to kick your feet up. Dr. Trott says leg elevation is a good idea for nearly everyone sleeping on their backs after an invasive procedure. “I have a strict rule that, when [my patients] are sitting or lying down, their ankles have to be at least at knee level,” she explains. It’s a small but important part of making sure the “venous fluid doesn't pool down in their lower extremities and increase risk of blood clots,” Dr. Trott shares.
3. Dress Smarter
To state the obvious, you’ll likely be sore after your procedure. If it is a part of the body that is usually clothed, what you wear can be an added source of discomfort. As such, you’ll probably want to opt for loose-fitting sleepwear. Breathable cotton pajamas will do the trick. If your recovery involves compression garments, those baggy PJs will easily slide over top.
How to Dress Wounds
As for how to dress your wounds themselves, it’s time to forget that old wives’ tale about keeping them uncovered so they can ‘breathe.’ Open sores “heal best if coated with petrolatum or lighter blend healing ointments, like Doctor Rogers Restore, then covered with a non-stick pad,” Dr. MacGregor says. This strategy not only helps the cells migrate faster, but “the covering prevents a hard, crusty scab, which impedes wound healing and [is] a nidus for infection.”
While the above serves as a good general rule of thumb, be sure to check with your doctor about specific wound protocols, as some procedures come with their own specific recommendations. For example, Dr. MacGregor gives ablative laser patients a very strict set of guidelines to follow. “For ablative laser procedures — I’m talking about only those that cause raw skin and recovery for a few days after — we have a very detailed protocol to follow, which includes special soaks and ointment for a few days,” she explains. “Then, we recommend a slow transition to healing creams.”
4. Fall Asleep Faster
Some people have no problem drifting off after an aesthetic surgery because, on a cellular level, your body doesn't know that you did this on purpose, Dr. Trott says. “[The body] goes into a healing mode where all of the healing factors from your liver are sent out to the injured areas,” she explains. “Your metabolism is jacked up about one and a half times normal for at least a few weeks.” When explaining the effect to patients, she likens it to both a marathon and sprint. “The analogy that I give my patients is that your body is basically running a marathon all day at the same time that you are going about your daily routine, so be prepared to get suddenly tired,” she says.
But not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes pain or the fear of messing up the results overnight can interfere with post-procedure sleep cycles. That’s one of the reasons why Bruce Moskowitz, MD, an oculoplastic surgeon in Manhattan, stresses the importance of pain management. “I encourage my patients to follow the instructions for their medications carefully and try not to tough it out,” he shares. “If someone is in pain or nauseous, it's difficult or impossible to get the proper rest.” Another benefit? Pain meds are known to induce drowsiness.
If you’re looking for an over-the-counter alternative, there is another course of action to help bring on the sandman: “Benadryl can be very helpful when patients are having a hard time,” Dr. Doft says. And then, of course, practicing good sleep hygiene can work wonders if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep. A few things that have been proven to work:
- Sleeping with socks on (according to a 2018 study)
- Laying off blue-light devices (shown to work in a study published in PLOS ONE)
- Keeping nighttime meals lighter (as proven to help in a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine)
5. Don’t Take It Too Easy
Sleep is great — vital, even — after a procedure, but don’t go overboard with the lounging sessions. “Many patients want to stay in bed right after surgery, but it is also important to walk around the house a few times a day,” Dr. Doft says. It’s key for improving circulation, which promotes wound healing and helps ward off blood clots.
While all these sleep tips are meant to promote the most comfortable recovery process, keep in mind that you don’t have to stress about it too much — as long as you’re following your doctor’s advice. Sure, procedures like rhinoplasty require you not to sleep directly on the treatment area. But, for most others, good sleep habits are primarily about getting you back to your normal routine safely and smoothly.
So, if you’re having trouble falling asleep post-op and counting sheep isn’t cutting it, remember this: “I think it's really hard for a patient to permanently damage their cosmetic result by making a ‘sleeping mistake,’” Dr. Trott says. “I can't think of any that have ruined an outcome!”