Sleeping With an Ostomy: Then & Now

sleep with an ostomy

Support groups are great for talking about things that only an ostomate would wonder about, like how we sleep with an ostomy. A couple of my friends and I were talking about sleeping positions and some of them were expressing concern about laying on their stomach for any length of time. I went through a progression of sleeping positions as I was healing and becoming more comfortable with my ostomy, and naturally, I was inspired to write about it.

Then…

I was so nervous about everything when I first got home from the hospital that I refused to sleep laying down for fear of the poop not draining into the bag and me waking up with a leak.  Not just nervous, terrified. And it was amplified by the lack of sleep and painkillers I was on, so I propped myself up with pillows and slept very little for the first week or two.

As time went on I realized I needed to sleep and that thousands of other people have ostomies and they probably sleep horizontally just fine. I began barricading myself with pillows, laying on my side and lining myself with pillows in front and behind me to prevent me from rolling in either direction. I started ditching the pillows one by one as I healed and became more comfortable.

For the first year I set an alarm for 4.5 hours after I went to bed to wake myself up to go empty because I was afraid of having a leak. I forced myself to get up even though I didn’t want to and while most of the time I probably would have made it through the night just fine, there were a few nights that I woke up an hour or two later to get up for the day and had a completely full bag -that would have been a mess if I hadn’t gotten myself up to empty. Gradually I realized that my body was naturally waking me up when my pouch was at a certain level of fullness so I began trusting myself.

Many people are fortunate enough to sleep with an ostomy completely the same as they slept without one: through the night and in whatever position they like. I’m fortunate to be more on that side of the line. Other people find that they have to get up in the middle of the night a couple times to empty.  All of our bodies are different. If you fall into the latter category, you could look into a high output bag (you can call your appliance manufacturer to see if they sell them) or trying out some of the of the absorbing gel or crystals sold by Parthenon or Convatec. Other suggestions are to eat dinner earlier and/or eat a lighter dinner so there’s less inside you waiting to come out. Check out my page about sleeping with an ostomy for some additional ideas and tips.

Now…

I mostly sleep on my side these days, but sometimes I sleep almost on my stomach. I’ll usually cuddle up with a pillow if I want to sleep on my stomach which gives me a nice little crevice for my pouch to fill up without squishing it. I sleep on both my right and left sides, it just depends on my mood. Sometimes I wake up on my back but it’s not my favorite position. The time I woke up with a leak, I woke up sleeping on my back. I don’t think that my back sleeping was a contributing factor to the leak, but who knows. It was actually a blessing in disguise that I’d been on my back because the mess was contained and not all over the bed.

As far as laying on my stomach goes. I sometimes put my hands under my hip bones to offer a little bit of support, but I think it’s more mental support than actually having any physical impact. I almost always empty or make sure my pouch is nearly empty before laying on my stomach for for than a few minutes. I’ve laid on my stomach for quite a few 90 minute massages with no incident so at some point I realized a 90 minute nap would probably fine too, tried it, and it worked out just fine.

Nervous about laying on your stomach? If you’ve healed and/or have the go ahead from your doctor, go empty your bag and lay down on your bed on your stomach for 5 minutes, then get up. Look at your pouch. Everything’s fine? How’s your abdomen feel? Fine? That’s what I thought. Next, do it again for longer and longer periods of time so you decide how long you’re comfortable laying for. Once you’ve worked up to 60 or 90 minutes, go get yourself a massage – you deserve it!

Do you have any tips or tricks about you sleep with an ostomy, or even just lay on your stomach?

2 Comments on “Sleeping With an Ostomy: Then & Now”

  1. When I first got my eleostomy bag, I was leaking all the time for two weeks. I was so stressed out constantly waking up. I sleep on my back and it’s very comfortable, now it’s been 5 months and doing so much better. I drain my bag before going to bed and once in the morning when I wake up, and two times a day. Hoping for the day that it doesn’t leak that much.
    Still having problem with what to eat. I just finished my last chemo treatment, and I am doing great, the doc is really happy with my progress, the cancer is shrinking and not growing, staying stable. I’m so excited. The power of prayer is awesome.

    1. You have such a great attitude! I’m so glad you’re doing so much better and figuring out what works for you, it’s all trial and error since we’re all so different huh. I hope your leaks happen less and less frequently and that you’re able to figure out what foods work with your body!

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