Sleeping With A New Tattoo: How Not To Screw It Up


There’s a lot to think about on the day you get a tattoo. Especially you’re first one.

But no matter what, it’s the end of the day that holds the biggest question.

How the hell am I going to sleep with this thing?!

Sleeping after getting a new tattoo is crucial. Sleep helps the healing process, and is great for your skin. But it also poses a hazard to your new art piece.

After helping a friend after their latest tattoo, I put everything I learned into a quick guide. All of which is below.

If I can say one thing, it would be to not overthink this! A tattoo isn’t a water colour painting – they’re sturdy and made to last. While it’s good to follow these best practices, don’t catch yourself staying up all night worrying about it. Follow any instructions from your artist, be safe, and you’ll be showing off that ink in no time.

Your Top Priorities

Before we dive into the tips, I want to cover one important comment.

Many people get confused about the most important thing for a new tattoo. Some think it’s preventing bumps or scratches on it. Others think it’s to air it out and show it off as quickly as possible. There’s only one most important thing, though.

At all costs, avoid infection.

A new tattoo is basically an open wound. Apologies for the phrasing.

The biggest fear with something like that is an infection. This can cause you no end of pain, discomfort, and risk damaging the tattoo itself.

If you only take away one thing from this guide – make sure that it’s to be paranoid about germs. For the next week, you are now a germophobe. Keep things clean and protected. Believe me.

Tips for Sleeping with a New Tattoo

Make Sleep A Priority

It’s important not to be scared of sleep.

My friend was almost planning to never sleep out of fear of ruining the tattoo. This is the complete opposite of what you should be doing!

Remember – sleep is our body’s superpower. While we’re laying resting, our body’s are hard at work repairing and improving itself in every area. Particularly in healing wounds. Which is what a tattoo is – a wound.

The more (and higher quality) sleep you get, the quicker and safer your tattoo will heal.

So make sleep a priority.

As a huge fan of sleep myself, I’ve filled this website full of information about how to get your best ever rest. The most important tip is to stick to the sleep trifecta.

The Sleep ‘Trifecta’:

  • As obvious as they come – the less light, the better sleep. Use a sleep mask or black-out blinds for best results.
  • The other massive one. A *good* set of earplugs (see guides on this site) work wonders. Good doesn’t mean the cheap foam ones that fall out – but silicone or wax buds.
  • Not so obvious – but cooler temperatures signal sleep (since night is always cooler). You can be cosy under the covers, but keep your room on the cooler side.

Keep It Wrapped

Unless you need to clean the tattoo, keep it wrapped as your artist left it. The protection the wrap offers (whichever kind) is your best defense against any accidental bumps or scrapes. Which may not only hurt, but scrape off some ink in the process.

That said, it’s a good idea to clean and rewrap the tattoo for the first few nights. At least the first three nights, ideally up to the first 5: until the peeling stage is finished.

I know.. what a lovely name. The ‘peeling’ stage..

Use Clean & Sacrificial Sheets

If you’ve not got the tattoo wrapped (for whatever reason), or you just want to be extra safe, make sure you’re using the right sheets.

These should be two things:

  1. Clean. Germs are your worst enemy right now. Make sure that any sheets are freshly washed and free of germs/bacteria. Otherwise the skin around your latest tat may become an infection party.
  2. A little ink spotting is normal from any new tattoo. Don’t worry, it won’t damage your tat quality, but it may damage your sheets.

(Don’t) Sleep On It

It goes without saying that sleeping on your tattoo isn’t a good idea.

This is also one of the most challenging parts. How do you stop your sleeping self from messing this up?

Well, there’s a few ways.

  • First, figure out how you want to sleep. Think about what’s comfortable for you, and what will avoid the tattoo getting damaged. From best to worst, sleep on your side, back, stomach.
  • This may sound silly, but practice getting into the new position during the day. Get into bed, lay in the position, close your eyes for a few minutes, then get back up. This helps ‘reinforce’ the position in your subconscious. Laying down like that for the first time then falling asleep won’t last long.
  • For extreme cases, make it uncomfortable to change positions. If you need to not lay on your back, then tape a tennis ball onto the back of your pyjama top. It’ll serve as a quick reminder not to lay down that way.
  • For more detail, check out my guide on learning how to sleep in a better position. It’s got plenty of tips for this kind of thing.

Unstick With Warm Water

Sheets sticking to a tattoo happens to everyone – don’t panic if it happens.

But don’t just rip them off, either.

Make sure to rinse the whole area under warm water, and let the sheets fall off themselves. Tearing them off might bring a bit of your new ink with them.

Keep Wipes Nearby

A quick, worthwhile pickup is a set of tattoo wipes. These are cleaning and moisturizing wipes that are made to clean tattoos without risking any kind of damage to them.

There’s plenty options available online or from your artist. Use them as a replacement for full washes on the go, if you’ve been particularly sweaty, or if you just need a quick clean.

Keep It Elevated

You may be surprised to hear that we all have a lot of blood inside us.

There’s also a thing called gravity.

Combine the two, and you have blood ‘pooling’ in areas like wrists, hands, feet, etc. This can cause swelling – which isn’t ideal when your skin’s just been attacked by a tattoo gun.

Try to sleep with your tattoo elevated. This just needs to be on a pillow or some other prop. If it’s higher up than your heart then you’re good.

Don’t Touch The Good Stuff

Beer. Wine. Bourbon. Cocktails… that’s all on the naughty list now.

Alcohol can cause trouble for a new tattoo in a few ways:

  • It’ll mess with your sleep. Alcohol is a massive ruiner of rest. It may help you conk out, but your sleep quality is massively reduced. With sleeping being the best way to heal a new tattoo, this isn’t ideal.
  • It slows down your healing. At the same time as messing with your sleep, it also slows your body’s ability to heal wounds down.
  • You’ll make mistakes. You don’t want to be “that guy” at a party showing off their tat, forgetting to wrap or take care of it then crashing out on a dirty couch. If this art is going to last a lifetime, it deserves your protection for a week!

Be Selfish. Kick the Dog/Cat/Partner out.

As I said at the start, we need you to become a germophobe.

What carries plenty of germs and bacteria around? Our beautiful pets.

While your tattoo heals, the bed needs to become a no-pet zone. Even during the day – unless you’re going to put on clean sheets later.

As much as they disagree with you, pets need to be out of the bed.

This can also be a fun excuse to kick your partner out, too!

While I’m sure your loved one doesn’t go around licking their own genitals (hey it’s a free country), it’s a given that sleeping alone is safer and often better quality sleep. Particularly if your partner snores or likes to move around a lot during the night.

Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

It’s easy to forget that a tattoo is still just your skin. With added color or not.

Keeping the area moisturized is the best way to aid healing, and more importantly, preventing itchiness.

Itching can be a real nightmare depending on the tattoo. If you’re suffering from scratch-fever, reach for the moisturizer (as well as the nail clipper).

Ointment is King.

Since many people are skim readers, I wanted to end on an important one.

If germs are the enemy, then ointment is your castle wall.

Ointment acts as a protective layer on a clean tattoo, preventing it from much of the outside world. Aside from keeping things clean, keeping up your ointment should be a top priority in the days after getting inked.

In general, reapply anytime you unwrap the tattoo – ideally after giving the area a clean too.

The ‘Wrap Up’

I hope this quick guide has given you a few ideas on how to sleep with your new tattoo.

If you only take away one thing, make sure that it’s this:

When sleeping with a new tattoo, germs are your biggest enemy. And wrap/ointment is your best defense against them.

Outside of that – try not to overthink this.

Tattoos are sturdy things, it’s not going to just rub off!

Do what you can, but relax, too. The hard part’s over – you have the tattoo! Now it’s just about being patient until you can fully unwrap it and show it off to the world.

Sleep well,

Craig

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