Sleeping Advice for Side-sleeper

Posted by eccid @eccid, Feb 25 8:33am

Hi -
My husband is 4.5 weeks out from esophagectomy. He is a life-long side-sleeper and is finding it quite difficult to get comfortable on his back, 30 degrees up. This is either in a recliner or in bed with a cluster of pillows/wedges. I suspect this question has been discussed, but not sure where to find it. Tips and encouragement would be welcomed!

Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Esophageal Cancer Support Group.

Sorry... but for ALL of us post-op we have to deal with this reality... sleeping elevated on our backs. And yes, it's a real pain in the ass. But we do it primarily to help us avoid nasty reflux and even more nastier aspiration events. We don't want acid and food going into our lungs. When this happens... many bad things can follow.

Another reason we learn to sleep this way is maybe we have a j tube, and we're feeding at night. While it is still possible to side sleep with this tube, which goes in left of our navel, it's just less stress on the tubing to stay on our backs.

So... will this ALWAYS be the case. Well... NO! But it is an unknown for each of us esophagectomy patients. I probably slept on my back for at least 12 months... and yes, I still had some reflux a few times a month, but was lucky to never once aspirate. But somewhere after maybe 13 to 14 months, I noticed I was sliding down off my wedge and mountains of pillows, and I was indeed sleeping on my left side again... fairly flat, head on just a pillow or two. Reflux still happened, but kept getting less and less frequent.

So today at 41 months post-op, I sleep normally once again. I rarely have acid reflux that wakes me up at 3am with some acid in my windpipe (I can't remember the last time it happened... 9 months ago?). But to this day, I still take precautions. I don't eat within 2 hours of bedtime, and even when in bed, I sit up at 30 to 45 degrees watching TV maybe another hour or so. And I may chew a Tums or take some gaviscon (but usually I just do this with my dinner). So now, when I'm really sleepy, I turn off the TV and slide down on my left side and go to sleep. I can even roll on to my right side if I so desire during the night. Very unexpected... NEVER thought this would be possible again.

But for now... he's just way too early on post-op. He's still healing his surgical wounds... he's just now starting to get digestion fired up once again... without vagus nerve communication. And this journey back to digestion, with less and less tummy and intestinal pains... TAKES FOREVER! This can be very depressing!

So hang in there. Changes and improvements come... in EVERYTHING... eating, digestion, less tummy aches, pooping, sleeping, etc. But this process is crazy SLOOOOW!

I'll come chat privately.



Hi Gary.
Thank you SO very much for your time on this - I'm sure you have gone over all of this many times with others already! This was awesome - and very encouraging.
It helps to nudge us out of the impatient mindset of: "Why isn't this fixed yet?" and "I want to be better - yesterday!" I will pass this on to Bob and encourage him to sign in to this support group. And we will try to start attending zooms this week. 🙂
And thanks for your offer to chat.


@eccid, I'd like to add my welcome. You and your husband may also want to check out this related discussion:
- Adjustable bed frames: Acid reflux after esophageal cancer treatment

In it, you'll find helpful tips for side-sleepers after esophageal cancer surgery from fellow members like @lori57216 @beckydm @elspey @advocatepaul @johnstawicki and more.

How is Bob doing? How are YOU doing?


Thanks very much, Colleen - I will check it out. Much appreciated.


My husband was a side sleeper as well. I ordered adjustable bed and that has really helped (we needed a new mattress anyway). He had surgery 6 months ago. Keeps the head of the bed elevated to varying degrees and while he mainly sleeps on his back he does sleep on his side at times. The key to avoiding discomfort seems to be sticking to smaller more frequent meals.

The first couple of months post op were particularly challenging. Better days ahead!


Thank-you very much for your experience. Glad he's doing better. We may end up going that route too at some point - once we get through the procedures he's been needing to figure out why he's unable to eat.

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