Your gallbladder is a small organ underneath your liver on your right side. The gallbladder stores and releases a digestive fluid called bile.
Sometimes, painful gallstones, inflammation, or infection can mean that you need to have your gallbladder surgically removed. This procedure may be performed as a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery or open gallbladder surgery.
Any type of abdominal surgery, including surgery on your gallbladder, can cause you to have difficulty sleeping. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use in the days and weeks after gallbladder surgery so that you can rest and heal.
Both open and laparoscopic gallbladder surgery involve pumping air into your abdominal cavity to make it easier for your surgeon to do the procedure.
After your incisions are closed, you may feel extremely bloated for a 1 or 2 days. After the anesthesia from the surgery wears off, you may feel surges of discomfort or pain from the pressure of this excess gas pressing against your new incisions. You also may have a temporary post-operative drain.
This type of pain is normal, but it can make it hard to get comfortable, especially when you’re lying down.
Sleep is essential as you heal from your surgery, so it’s good to have a game plan for how you’re going to get some rest after you’ve had your gallbladder removed.
Sleep on your back or left side, not on your stomach or right side
After gallbladder surgery, your incisions will be on the right side of your belly where your gallbladder is. If you can avoid sleeping directly on your incisions, it may reduce pressure on the area and cause you less discomfort.
Sleep on your back, if you’re able to. If you have to sleep on your side, sleep on your left side.
Take prescription or OTC pain relievers
Your doctor may prescribe you an oral pain relief medication to manage your pain in the days following your surgery.
Even if you don’t get a prescription for pain relief, over-the-counter options taken a few hours before bedtime can help you to sleep easier. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) like ibuprofen (Advil) or Naproxen (Aleve) taken 2 hours before you turn in for the night might keep you from waking up in pain.
Many prescription pain medications can cause constipation following a surgery and can contribute to discomfort as you try to sleep. A doctor is likely to prescribe a stool softener if they also prescribe a pain medication following gallbladder surgery.
To aid with potential bloating and gas, you can also take simethicone products, which can help with gas discomfort, such as:
- Alka-Seltzer Anti-Gas
- Mylanta Gas
Create a good sleeping environment in your bedroom
When you recover from any type of surgery, it’s important to make sure that you have a clean, calm environment to rest in while you heal.
If you have the opportunity to prep your bedroom before your surgery, you might want to invest in blackout curtains and moisture-wicking sheets to create a dark, relaxing atmosphere.
Make sure you have a glass of water, your phone charger, and any other essentials on an accessible surface near your bed before you lie down, as it may hurt a bit to get up and out of bed multiple times. Using an eye mask and noise-canceling earplugs to decrease night disturbances may also help you.
Follow your doctor’s exercise advice
Your doctor will give you personalized guidance on how (and when) you can start exercising after your surgery. In the initial days after surgery, any type of heavy or intense exercise is prohibited.
However, a brief walk during the day is encouraged to help relieve bloating, increase circulation and help you to feel better.
Avoid heavy meals before bed
There’s no specific diet that you need to follow after having your gallbladder removed, and in the days after your surgery, heavy meals might not appeal much to you, anyway.
To avoid dealing with gas or digestive upset on top of other discomfort when you try to sleep after surgery, stick to small, light meals that are easy to digest and don’t expand your stomach.
Crackers, broth, and bananas are good options. You’ll want to avoid eating a lot of fatty meats, processed foods, and alcohol to promote healthy digestion.
Diffuse essential oils
Using an oil diffuser, you can spread the scent of rosemary, lavender, chamomile, or eucalyptus oil where you sleep to feel more relaxed and, hopefully, sleep more soundly.
Removal of your gallbladder can make resting difficult for a few days. The causes may vary according to why you needed your gallbladder removed in the first place, whether you’re staying a few nights in the hospital, and which type of surgical procedure you had.
This same study concluded that in the first 2 to 4 nights after either type of surgery, your body will lose a significant amount of REM sleep, but that in the days afterward, your body will try to provide you with extra REM sleep to make up for it.
Causes may include:
- abdominal pressure or bloating
- pain from incisions
- difficulty getting comfortable outside of your typical sleep position
- post-anesthesia insomnia
If you had laparoscopic gallbladder removal surgery, you will most likely be able to go home the same day. If you had an open gallbladder removal surgery, you may need to stay 1 to 2 nights in the hospital for observation.
When you wake up from the procedure, you will be encouraged to walk around and get your circulation moving within a couple of hours. Your doctor will advise you on specific activities you may need to avoid for a couple of days.
You may experience diarrhea or nausea when you begin to eat after your gallbladder surgery, but that should resolve quickly.
Gallbladder surgery might cause pain and discomfort while you heal, but you can usually be back to your regular activities within a week or so.
As far as long-term recovery goes, you may experience some lingering pain or abdominal discomfort, but most all of that should be gone six weeks after surgery.
It’s normal to have difficulty getting rest in the initial 1 to 2 weeks after having gallbladder surgery. But if you’re having trouble sleeping beyond that, there may be something else at causing that.
Sleep is essential to healthy healing. If you’re still having difficulty sleeping 2 weeks after your procedure, speak with your doctor at your post-operative appointment (or just give them a call) and discuss your options.
You should also see your doctor if it appears that your incision has become infected, or if bloating in your abdomen is not resolving on its own.
Signs that it’s time to see a doctor include:
- a persistent fever above 100.4°F (38°C)
- drainage or pus that is green, gray, or yellow
- incisions that weep or smell foul
- persistent nausea, vomiting, or dizziness after your surgery
Gallbladder surgery is quite common. Doctors recommend this procedure when your gallbladder is causing you significant pain. If you have had recurring gallstones or bile blockages, your doctor may recommend having this surgery.
There are also times when gallbladder removal is performed as an emergency surgery in cases where you have inflammation or infection that is putting your other organs at risk.
Getting some sleep after gallbladder surgery isn’t always easy, but having a game-plan in place can make it easier.
Planning your sleep space, having pain relievers on hand, and following all of your doctor’s instructions are the quickest ticket to a good night’s rest while you heal.