Sleeping on Your Side Post-Cataract Surgery. How Soon is Safe?

Cataract surgery is a common procedure performed to treat cataracts, which cause blurry or hazy vision. During cataract surgery, the natural lens of the eye that has become cloudy is removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant called an intraocular lens (IOL). This restores clear vision and allows patients to see much better afterwards.

The recovery period after cataract surgery is critical for healing and avoiding complications. Most patients must follow certain restrictions and care instructions from their surgeon, especially in regards to positioning, activity levels, and protecting the operated eye as it heals. A key question many patients have is how long they need to sleep on their back before they can return to their normal side sleeping position. This guide will provide an overview of the typical recovery timeline and factors that determine when side sleeping is allowed after cataract surgery.

Why Sleep Position Matters After Surgery

someone sleeping in different positions after eye surgery

After cataract surgery, patients are advised to limit sleeping on their side or stomach for a period of time. This restriction is crucial for allowing the eye to properly heal without unnecessary pressure or irritation.

When cataract surgery is performed, the natural lens in the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). The incision sites made during surgery take time to fully seal and close up. Sleeping on the side or stomach too soon after surgery can put pressure on the eye or rub against the incision sites, potentially disturbing their healing. This can lead to complications like inflammation, bleeding, infection, or a dislocated IOL.

Additionally, side or stomach sleeping positions allow gravity to pull on the eye. This tugging can shift the IOL out of position while it is still healing in place. A dislocated IOL would require a second surgery to reposition or replace it.

For these reasons, ophthalmologists instruct patients to primarily sleep on their backs for a period of 1-2 weeks after cataract extraction. This takes pressure off the eye, minimizes irritation to the incisions, and allows proper positioning of the new IOL as it heals.

Following the doctor’s recommendations for sleep position can promote optimal surgical healing and reduce risks of complications. However, the duration of sleep restrictions varies on an individual basis depending on the type of cataract surgery performed and the patient’s recovery process. Patients should discuss timeline specifics with their surgeon.

Typical Recovery Timeline

a recovery timeline infographic for after cataract surgery

According to a patient recovery guide, there are certain typical healing stages and timeframes after cataract surgery.

Immediately after surgery, your vision will be blurry. Most patients have improved vision within a few days, but final vision results may take 4-6 weeks. You will need to wear an eye shield at night for about a week to protect your eye as it heals.

Within the first 1-2 days, swelling and irritation should decrease. Any stitches will dissolve on their own within a week. You may have some discomfort like itching or mild pain, which can be treated with medication.

After 1 week, your eye should look and feel much better. Vision will continue improving gradually over the next few weeks. At your first post-op exam, your doctor will check your healing and may update your eyeglass prescription.

Most patients can return to their normal routine within 2-4 weeks, including driving and reading. However, strenuous activities may need to be avoided for up to 6 weeks. Complete healing can take 2-3 months.

Surgeon’s Recommendations

a doctor providing recommendations on sleeping after surgery

Ophthalmologists typically advise patients to sleep on their back for the first 1-2 weeks after cataract surgery. This allows the eye to heal properly without any undue pressure on it. According to Dr. Melissa Toyos, a cataract surgeon, “For the first week, I recommend sleeping on your back and keeping your head elevated about 30 degrees. This takes tension off the incision site and minimizes swelling.”

Sleeping on the side or stomach places pressure on the operated eye, which can lead to complications like inflammation, bleeding, infection, and a longer visual recovery. Dr. Jonathan Crandall says, “Back sleeping is recommended after cataract surgery to optimize outcomes. Side sleeping places uneven forces on the eye which can displace the lens implant early on. Back sleeping optimizes outcomes by minimizing pressure on the eye during the critical early healing phase.”

To keep the head elevated while sleeping on the back, surgeons often recommend using extra pillows to prop up the head. Using pillows under the knees can also help maintain the recommended head-up sleep position. Following the surgeon’s advice closely, especially in the first 1-2 weeks, gives the incisions and eye tissue the best chance to heal properly after cataract removal.

When You Can Sleep on Your Side Again

Most cataract surgeons recommend sleeping on your back with your head elevated for 1-2 weeks after surgery. This helps reduce pressure on the eye as it heals from the operation. Typically, patients can return to sleeping on their side 2-4 weeks after cataract surgery, once swelling and inflammation has significantly decreased and the eye is more stable.

a person lying on their side wondering if it's safe after cataract surgery

Indicators that it may be okay to sleep on your side again include:

  • Your surgeon says it is alright and gives the go-ahead
  • Vision and comfort in the operated eye is greatly improved
  • Persistent pain, tearing, and light sensitivity have subsided
  • Eye discharge and excessive watering/tearing has minimized
  • Sutures have fully dissolved (if they were used)
  • Follow-up exam shows the eye is healing well with minimal swelling or inflammation

Most patients can return to their preferred side sleeping position within 1 month after uncomplicated cataract surgery. However, always consult your ophthalmologist for personalized advice on when your eye has healed enough for normal side sleeping. Take care not to sleep on the operated side until your surgeon confirms it is safe to do so.

Tips for Side Sleepers

Side sleepers may find adjusting to sleeping on their backs challenging after cataract surgery. However, there are some tips to make sleeping on your back more comfortable during the recovery period:

Use pillows to help prop you up on your back at an incline. This can ease the adjustment from sleeping on your side. Place pillows under your knees as well for additional support (

If you must sleep on your side during recovery, use pillows or rolled towels as a barrier to keep you from rolling fully onto the side of your surgery. Support yourself on the non-surgical side with pillows under your head and between your knees (

Consider purchasing a body pillow or wedge pillow to make side sleeping more comfortable during recovery without putting pressure on your surgical eye.

Talk to your doctor about when you can safely transition back to your normal side sleeping position. Follow their recommendations closely to avoid complications.

Alternative Sleeping Positions

While sleeping on your side is generally not recommended immediately after cataract surgery, there are some alternative sleep positions that can help you rest comfortably as you recover:

Back sleeping – Lying flat on your back is the recommended position after surgery, as it keeps pressure off the operated eye. Use pillows under your knees or lower legs to help alleviate back discomfort.

Elevated back sleeping – Resting at an incline with your head and back elevated 30-45 degrees can make back sleeping more comfortable. Place pillows under your upper back and neck.

Fetal position – Lying on your non-operated side in a fetal pose with a pillow between your legs can take pressure off your eyes. Be mindful not to squeeze your face against the pillow.

Reclined chair – Sleeping semi-upright in a reclined chair or with lots of pillows can keep you from rolling onto your side at night.

Talk to your eye doctor about positioning devices or wedges that can maintain proper head and neck alignment for comfortable back sleeping after your cataract procedure.

Using Pillows and Support

Finding a comfortable sleeping position after cataract surgery may require some pillow adjustments. Side sleepers in particular may need extra support while recovering. Here are some tips:

  • Place a pillow under your knees when lying on your back. This takes pressure off your lower back.
  • Use a body pillow for extra support if side sleeping. Make sure your head is elevated and your operated eye doesn’t get smashed.
  • Try using a recliner or adjustable bed to sleep semi-upright. Add pillows as needed for comfort.
  • Avoid resting directly on the side of your face. Cushion with a soft pillow instead.
  • If you must sleep on the side of your surgery, use an eye shield and position your head carefully to avoid pressure.
  • Consider using specialty medical pillows designed for post-op positioning.

Be creative and don’t be afraid to experiment with pillows. The goal is to take pressure off your eye while keeping the rest of your body aligned and comfortable. With some adjustments, you can find a sleep setup that works during recovery.

Lifestyle Adjustments

It’s important to make some lifestyle adjustments after cataract surgery to help promote healing and minimize discomfort. Here are some tips:

Take it easy and limit strenuous activity for the first few weeks after surgery, as recommended by your doctor. Vigorous exercise can raise eye pressure and may disrupt your eye’s healing process (source).

Wear sunglasses when outside to protect your eyes from wind and sunlight, which can cause irritation. Consider wearing glasses or goggles in the shower as well (source).

Take precautions in the kitchen like using oven mitts, cooking at lower temperatures, and being careful when working with knives or appliances. Consider avoiding complicated recipes early on (source).

Adjust your computer screen brightness and increase text size for easier reading. Position yourself at an appropriate distance from digital screens.

Use good lighting when reading books or newspapers. Adjust lighting as needed to reduce eye strain.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water to help with healing.

Get lots of rest and listen to your body. Don’t overexert yourself.

Ask loved ones for help with tasks like housework, yardwork, driving, and grocery shopping in the short-term.

When to Ask Your Doctor

It’s important to follow up with your doctor if you experience any concerning signs or symptoms after cataract surgery, as they could indicate a complication requiring medical attention. Some signs to watch out for include:

– Severe pain, swelling, or redness in the eye that worsens over time1

– Vision getting cloudier or blurrier2

– Pus or discharge coming from the eye3

– Halos, glare, or other visual distortions that don’t improve1

– Floaters or flashes that start suddenly2

If you experience any of these, don’t hesitate to contact your ophthalmologist. Catching complications early can help prevent long-term issues. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and determine if additional treatment is needed.

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