How to manage a stoma bag at night is something that can cause significant anxiety for new ostomates. It is quite natural to worry about leaks at night after stoma surgery, and to be concerned about how you sleep. It’s a daunting prospect to consider what sleeping positions will or won’t work and even whether or not your stoma will hurt if you lie on it. Over the years I have been able to recognise what works for me and below you can read my five top tips for a restful night with a stoma.

1. Change your bag before you go to bed. I have always made this my top priority as I think that the confidence it gives me is hugely beneficial. If my bag is empty before I go to sleep, if the worst should happen and I have a leak the chances are that there will a) still be time to repair the damage, so to speak, and b) there’ll be a good few hours to sleep before I need to get up for work.

2. Think about what you eat before bedtime. Avoiding eating late at night is arguably a good idea for anyone; for ostomates it also ensures that our stomas are less active during the night and any bag emptying is kept to a minimum. I find that if I eat something a bit lighter in the evening it really helps, rather than trying to sleep after a full-on dinner. At the end of the day, the more that goes in, the more has to come out! Also certain foods may make your stoma more active than usual and understanding what those foods are is something you will learn as your stoma life progresses.

3. Get a comfortable mattress. Choosing the right mattress is paramount to getting a good night’s sleep – that is the same for anybody. It’s worth taking time to find a mattress that will give you the right support especially as your sleeping position may well be different with a stoma. Generally the advice is to sleep either on your side (the opposite one to your stoma) or on your back. I now sleep on my left side and I know my mattress gives me the right support where I need it. Sometimes using different pillows helps to make you feel more comfortable and some people use them to support their back, their stoma itself or even to prevent themselves rolling onto their fronts. Finding whatever works for you is what’s important.

4. Make sure you have the right stoma bag! Stoma bags are such good quality nowadays and apart from being waterproof (so that you can swim or shower with confidence), the adhesives are so effective that the bag is likely to stay put while you sleep. I won’t lie, and claim that I’ve never had a leak during the night, but on the very rare occasion that I have, it was because I hadn’t attached the bag securely – probably I was overtired and wasn’t giving it proper attention. So that’s a warning to you all – you can have the best appliance in the world but you’ve still got to make sure you do your bit to make sure it stays on.

5. Listen to your built-in alarm! Most ostomates quickly develop this gift, and will just know whether they need to empty their pouch or not during the day and the night. My tip is definitely don’t ignore it! Just taking those few minutes to empty your bag could be the difference between continuing a relatively peaceful night’s sleep or potentially dealing with a bigger mishap.

Stoma or no stoma, we all need a good night’s sleep. Making your bedroom relaxing and comfortable is always very important and hopefully the above suggestions of how to minimise the stress of managing a stoma will help you maintain a restful atmosphere where you will be able to unwind effectively and enjoy some well deserved rest and sweet dreams.


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