A chemo port is a small, implantable device that attaches to a vein. Doctors typically insert these devices beneath the skin in the chest. They reduce the need for doctors to keep finding a vein to deliver medications, take blood samples, or carry out other procedures.

As chemo ports create a slight bulge in the skin, some people may find it difficult to sleep in their preferred position. Stomach sleeping, for instance, may prove uncomfortable for people with a chemo port.

This article explains how to sleep comfortably with a chemo port and provides tips to promote more restful sleep.

A woman with a chemo port lying in bed while trying to sleep. She is wearing blue pajamas and a head scarf.Share on Pinterest
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Chemo ports, or portacaths, are devices that doctors implant beneath the skin. They may stay in place for anywhere between a few weeks and a few years. As a result, the person will complete all of their daily activities, including sleeping, with the chemo port inside them.

When doctors first insert a chemo port, people may experience some pain, irritation, or discomfort, which may temporarily affect sleep. People who sleep on their front may also experience some difficulties. Lying on the stomach can put unnecessary pressure on the port, causing further discomfort.

However, once the skin heals and a person has had time to adjust to a new sleeping position, they should find sleeping with a chemo port easier.

It is worth noting that people with cancer can experience sleep disturbances for other reasons, aside from having a chemo port. An older 2012 study estimates that 30–87% of cancer patients experience sleep interruptions. Possible causes of these interruptions include:

  • the chemotherapy itself causing sleep problems as a side effect
  • the chemotherapy causing other symptoms that disturb sleep
  • the effects of cancer and cancer treatment on mental health
  • changes to the daily routine, such as sleeping in late or having frequent naps to cope with fatigue

People can take several steps to make sleeping more comfortable while the skin around their chemo port heals.

Change sleep position

Although no sleeping position is technically unsafe for chemo ports, positions that could cause the port to twist or move under the skin have associated risks.

The optimal sleeping position for people with a chemo port is on the back, as this position will ensure minimal pressure or friction against the port. If a person is used to sleeping on their front, they might find that a body pillow helps them transition to a different sleeping position.

People who sleep on their side can still do so, but they should try to avoid the side of their chest where the port is implanted. Doctors typically insert chemo ports on the right side of the chest.

Wear comfortable clothing

It is best to wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and soft clothing that will not scratch or irritate the skin during sleep. For example, pajamas that have buttons, poppers, or similar features down the center may dig in against the chemo port.

Wearing breathable pajamas consisting of natural fibers may also help if a person experiences fever or night sweats because of their chemotherapy.

Consider a new mattress

If possible, it may be worth considering a new mattress. A mattress that sags or is uncomfortable may cause someone to move toward the middle of the bed during sleep or to toss and turn in an effort to get comfortable. Sleeping on the back can also be more difficult if the mattress is not supportive enough.

Switch to more supportive pillows

It is also important that people with a chemo port have the right level of support from pillows. A comfortable pillow may reduce tossing and turning, which can rub the port.

Ideally, sleeping pillows should be supportive enough for the head, neck, and shoulders. Using larger pillows for body support may also be helpful, especially if someone is adjusting to a new sleep position or often moves a lot in their sleep.

Although it is preferable for people with a chemo port to sleep on their back, side sleeping is a possibility. However, side sleepers will need to consider a few things once their chemo port is in place.

Immediately after the procedure, the skin will be sensitive and may hurt. It is advisable to avoid any unnecessary contact or pressure. Due to this, a person will need to sleep on their back until the area heals.

After the skin heals, it is still not a good idea to apply pressure to the area, as doing so can lead to irritation or discomfort. To sleep on the side without applying pressure to the chest, people can try:

  • using body pillows to support their body and prevent them from rolling onto their front
  • placing a pillow between the knees
  • placing large pillows on one side of the bed to discourage sleeping on the side of the body with the chemo port

After doctors insert a chemo port, it is fairly normal to experience some discomfort. A person will likely experience some swelling, inflammation, and tenderness. Bruising may also occur, which can take longer to go away.

It is important to avoid any clothing or items that create pressure or friction over the chest during the first 1–2 days after the procedure. Examples include:

  • tight clothing, such as bras
  • cross-body bags or straps
  • suspenders

People also should not lift heavy objects or participate in strenuous exercise until the incision heals, which takes about 1 week. A doctor can advise on when it is okay to start exercising again.

For tight clothes and straps that are unavoidable, such as seatbelts, people can cushion them with pillows or padding.

Some mild discomfort is normal for those with chemo ports. However, it is important to get medical help immediately if a person develops:

  • a fever
  • swelling or discoloration long after the initial procedure
  • excessive pain, especially without a clear cause
  • fluid or pus around the port site
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • bleeding around the port that does not stop after applying pressure for 15 minutes

Chemotherapy weakens the immune system, so it is important to act quickly if there are signs of infection.

Chemo ports also require regular cleaning. During each chemotherapy session, a healthcare professional should flush out port lines before administering the next round of medication. If it has been longer than a month since the last treatment, a person should ask for chemo port cleaning at a local hospital to prevent complications.

Chemo ports can help reduce the need for numerous injections and help medical professionals deliver treatments or perform blood tests easily. However, they can cause some discomfort after insertion, which may affect a person’s sleep.

People can often counter this by adjusting their sleeping position, changing their mattress or pillows, or choosing soft, loose-fitting nightwear. Body pillows can make it more comfortable to sleep on the back or side if a person is not used to these sleep positions.

It is important to speak with a doctor if a chemo port is causing significant pain, discomfort, or difficulty sleeping.