“Do you have any tips on how to sleep with a sprained ankle?” is a question that I frequently get asked in the clinic.
Well, before going to bed, you have to reduce your ankle pain and swelling to help you rest. But once you fall asleep, it’s also important to protect your injured joint to prevent worsening the injury.
I’ll teach you exactly how to do all this to make sure you recover as soon as possible. Here are the tips we share, tap on any of these to go straight to its section:
- 8 tips to sleep with ankle sprains
- How to promote recovery during the day
- Why sleeping boosts recovery
8 tips for sleeping with a sprained ankle
1) Keep your ankle elevated
Gravity can help you with your recovery process. It will help you drain the swelling if you keep your injured ankle above heart level. This will also limit any bleeding that may have also developed around the area. (1)
Whether you sleep on your back or your side, a couple of nice and comfy pillows right under your ankle should do the trick.
2) Avoid the belly-sleeping position
Your belly or, well, the size of it, is not the reason why you should avoid this position. It’s more on how your ankles will be placed.
If you lay on your belly, the top of your foot and ankle lie straight down on your bed. This may overstretch your injured ligaments, delaying the healing process.
But if you prefer to sleep in that position, make sure to bend your knee to the side. This little change will be enough to help you rest without compromising the injury.
3) Consider wrapping your ankle sprain using an elastic bandage
We tend to change our sleeping position many times during the night. And since we aren’t entirely conscious at this time, the tossing and turning might cause harm to your ankle.
But wearing an elastic bandage can help support your ankle while also reducing swelling. This also prevents placing your ankle in awkward positions. It can aid your ankle sprain to heal faster as well.
To do this, wrap your injured joint an hour before going to bed. But make sure to:
- Use that hour to check how comfortable is the bandage.
- Keep the fit of the bandage snug, but not tight.
- If it’s causing discomfort or pain, loosen it up a bit.
- If it’s too loose, the bandage will collapse.
This can help: How to properly wrap a sprained ankle?
4) RICE therapy
This is an acronym that stands for (1):
- Rest – Take it easy to prevent further or other related injuries.
- Ice – An ice pack around the injured area will work wonders to relieve pain.
- Compression – This also aids in keeping the ice pack in place and reducing swelling.
- Elevation – Even before you sleep, keep your ankle elevated as much as possible.
RICE therapy works best within 4 to 5 days from your injury. (1) Apply it an hour or so before your sleep to reduce pain. You can also use it a few more times throughout the day.
Do it right: How to ice your ankle sprain to maximize benefits.
5) Take some pain medications
Some severe sprains will probably need more than RICE therapy to reduce symptoms. Taking pain medications will do just that.
There are over-the-counter options like anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids. These two groups work in different ways, but they are effective in providing quick pain relief.
Examples include ibuprofen, naproxen, and paracetamol.
6) Massage around your ankle
Who doesn’t like a good massage right? It’s a great way to relax, improves your blood flow, and it’s easy to do.
But before you do, make sure that it has been a few days since your injury to avoid aggravating it. Pain and swelling should be minimal as well.
If not, you might want to skip this part and get your ankle checked by a medical professional instead.
Try it out: How to massage a sprained ankle?
Aside from physical symptoms, experiencing a sprained ankle might also lead to some form of emotional stress.
So if you find yourself ruminating more and more before you sleep, try to drown out those mental noises by meditating.
Research shows that practicing meditation can improve your pain tolerance, reduce your stress/anxiety, and also puts you in a good mood. (2) All that’s needed for a restful sleep.
If you don’t know where to start, there are tons of meditation apps and videos available to guide you. Alternatively, you can set a timer at 5 to 10 minutes and focus on your breath.
8) Stick to a sleep schedule
Having a sleep schedule allows you to get those blissful rest hours consistently. But distractions, like frequent app notifications and mobile phone use, can make this a bit difficult to stick to.
Here are some recommendations that can help (3):
- Turn off your phone’s internet connection before you sleep.
- Avoid using electronic devices an hour before you sleep.
- Avoid late-afternoon naps.
- Avoid large meals at nighttime.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Keep your room nice and cool.
How to boost your ankle sprain recovery during the day?
Pairing the tips above with these will maximize your recovery:
Do ankle exercises
Instead of waiting for your ankle to heal, why not be an active participant in your recovery? See, exercises are a key component to help you recover quickly.
These can be strengthening exercises like calf raises or balance drills such as standing on one leg. The goal here is pretty straightforward – to increase your ankle’s tolerance to movement and promote healing.
Part of my patient management system is to schedule these exercises a few hours before going to sleep. This allows the post-exercise high that you might experience to settle down and avoid disrupting your attempt to sleep.
Try them: 12 exercises to heal that ankle sprain.
If you are stressing over your sprained ankle, then go get the right treatment from a physical therapist (PT).
We usually do the following to help you heal:
- Thermotherapy to manage your symptoms.
- Manual therapy to get your ankle moving in tip-top shape.
- Therapeutic exercises to make your ankle more durable.
- A home exercise plan to fill in the gaps between your PT sessions.
May it be a misstep, or even if it came with other sports injuries, PTs help you quickly recover from an ankle sprain.
Learn more: Physical therapy for sprained ankles.
The importance of sleep for ankle sprain recovery
The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. (4) And there are a few reasons why.
With every two hours of sleep, your body releases human growth hormones (HGH). This substance promotes healing, recovery, and tissue growth. It also triggers other processes vital to recovery. (5)
So, lack of sleep can literally hinder your healing process.
Why does my sprained ankle hurt at night?
Ankle swelling and inflammation might have accumulated from a day’s worth of walking on an injured limb. Also, there are fewer distractions which may allow you to overthink your injury.
Is it OK to sleep with ankle support?
If your ankle is still fresh from an injury, then yes. Try it on for a couple of hours first before you sleep to see if it fits you well and you are comfortable using it.
Should you sleep with a compression bandage?
If your ankle is still swollen and you need some form of support, then yes. Make sure that the fit is snug, not tight.
Conclusion: How should you sleep with a sprained ankle?
There are no definite rules when it comes to the best sleeping position for a sprained ankle. Besides, there are different injury presentations as well as different preferences on how one sleeps.
But as a guide, your symptoms should be kept at a minimum while also protecting your ankle from further injury.
I hope this article gives a better understanding of this matter. But for further guidance, consult with your physical therapist or doctor.
- van den Bekerom, Michel P J et al. “What is the evidence for rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy in the treatment of ankle sprains in adults?.” Journal of athletic training vol. 47,4 (2012): 435-43. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-47.4.14
- Warhel Asim Mohammed, Athanasios Pappous, Dinkar Sharma. Effect of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in Increasing Pain Tolerance and Improving the Mental Health of Injured Athletes. Frontiers in Psychology, 2018; 9 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00722
- Walker, Matthew. “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams” Penguin Books Limited, Sep 28, 2017 https://books.google.com.ph/books/about/Why_We_Sleep.html?id=-fKlDgAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y
- “Are You Getting Enough Sleep?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. 8 April 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/getting-enough-sleep.html
- Morris, Christopher J et al. “Circadian system, sleep and endocrinology.” Molecular and cellular endocrinology vol. 349,1 (2012): 91-104. DOI: 10.1016/j.mce.2011.09.003