The most suitable sleeping position after cataract surgery is lying on the back. This may help someone avoid dislodging the protective eye shield overnight, which helps prevent postsurgery complications.

A cataract is a cloudy portion of the lens of the eye, and it can develop in one or both eyes, slowly causing blurry vision. Older adults who are over 40 years of age are more likely to develop cataracts than younger people.

Surgery is the only way to correct cataracts and restore a person’s vision. After someone undergoes cataract surgery, they will need to protect the eye as it heals.

This article looks at the best sleeping position after cataract surgery, precautions to take, other activities to avoid after surgery, and when to speak with a doctor.

An older person sleeping-2.Share on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Cataract surgery is safe and effective. However, as with all surgeries, it carries some risk of complications.

The most serious possible complication during recovery is an eye infection. This can lead to vision problems or possibly blindness, although this is rare.

To protect against infection, doctors ask people to wear a protective eye shield when sleeping. The shield acts as a mechanical barrier to prevent anything from pressing on the eye. People typically only need to wear this protection for around 1 week after surgery.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) suggests that, after surgery, people need to:

  • avoid rubbing the affected eye
  • avoid pressing on their eye
  • wear a protective eye shield when they sleep

It may be best for individuals to sleep on their backs during recovery. Sleeping on the back may help prevent dislodging the protective eye shield overnight. It also prevents germs or particles from pillows and blankets from getting into the eye.

Those with trouble comfortably sleeping on their back can try sleeping on the opposite side of the affected eye. However, if a person has had surgery on both eyes, back sleeping is the best option.

In addition to choosing a safe sleeping position, people can take other precautions to protect the eye following surgery. These measures include:

  • avoiding getting soap or water directly in the eye
  • wearing glasses to protect the eye
  • using eye drops as directed by a doctor

Most people must take medication for 1 to 4 weeks after surgery to prevent infection and swelling. These may include:

  • topical antibiotics
  • corticosteroids
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drops

After surgery, a person can safely touch their eye carefully, but they should not rub it or push on it.

Doctors will instruct people on which other activities to avoid after surgery.

Most people can return to typical activities within a few days.

Doctors will advise a person when it may be safe for them to drive again. However, people should arrange for a friend or family member to drive them home after surgery.

Generally, people can resume some light activities within a few hours of surgery, such as:

  • reading
  • watching TV
  • walking
  • showering, although they should not let water directly hit their eye

For the first week after surgery, individuals should avoid the following:

  • swimming
  • hot tubs
  • saunas
  • heavy lifting
  • bending over
  • putting their head below their waist
  • sneezing or coughing

Doctors sometimes also recommend avoiding the following activities for up to 2 weeks after surgery:

  • getting hair colored or permed
  • wearing eye makeup
  • strenuous aerobic exercise
  • weightlifting
  • gardening
  • dusting
  • swimming
  • sexual intercourse
  • flying without consulting a healthcare professional first
  • driving

In some cases, people may need cataract surgery on both eyes. A doctor typically performs these surgeries 2 weeks apart.

People may experience slight discomfort as their eye heals. There may also be minor changes in the appearance and sensation of their eye. These can include:

  • blurry vision after a person removes their eye shield
  • redness in the whites of the eye
  • a feeling that something is in the eye

These symptoms usually go away within a few days. However, if people notice any of the following symptoms after surgery, they should contact a doctor immediately:

  • loss of vision
  • very red eyes together with pain or a change in vision
  • eye pain
  • eye floaters, small dark spots, or wiggly lines across their vision
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Here are some frequently asked questions about sleeping after cataract surgery.

How long before you can sleep on your side after cataract surgery?

People should try to avoid sleeping on the same side of the operated eye for 1 week. However, if they wear a protective shield securely overnight, their eye should have enough protection, even if they unintentionally end up sleeping on that side.

Can I use a pillow after cataract surgery?

People can use pillows to sleep after cataract surgery. However, they should sleep on their backs to avoid contact between their eye and the pillow. Back sleeping can help prevent the eye from coming into contact with pillows or sheets, which could potentially put pressure on the healing eye or increase the risk of infection.

How long should you wear an eye shield after cataract surgery?

People may need to wear an eye shield for 1 week after surgery.

Back sleeping and wearing an eye shield when sleeping after surgery can prevent pressure on the healing eye and decrease the risk of infection.