How to Sleep with Broken Ribs - Sleep Better & Recover

Woman Suffering From Stomach Pain

Ribs act as protective gears within the chest, coursing from the spinal column to the sternum. Their primary role is to protect the delicate organs such as the heart and lungs. If you have multiple broken ribs, you'll find it hard to sleep in your usual sleep position.

This in-depth guide will take you through everything you need to know about broken ribs, including the best positions that can help you reduce discomfort when sleeping with bruised ribs.

What Ribs Are and Their Functions

Ribs are twelve paired curved bones articulating from the thoracic vertebrae adjoining to the sternum by cartilages to form the thoracic cavity. Together the ribs form what we call a rib cage.

The shape of the rib cage enables them to protect the fragile thoracic organs such as the lungs. They also ventilate the chest through expansion to allow room for lung expansion. Let's look at the causes of rib fractures and how to sleep with broken ribs and rib pain.

Causes of rib fractures

Commonly, rib fractures are brought by blunt trauma. The trauma may occur due to a car or motorbike accident, fighting, and other physical activities where pressure is forced onto the rib cage.

More often, people visiting the hospital with broken ribs will have one or more chest trauma. Some even experience flail chests. The most dangerous thing about these traumas is that they can cause extensive damage.

For instance, It may lead to accidental puncturing of the lungs and lung collapse, puncturing blood vessels or the heart. 

Symptoms exhibited by someone with broken ribs are;

  • The person can't sleep comfortably
  • Intense pain in the chest area
  • Ribs hurt constantly
  • Deep breathing becomes difficult and painful
  • The person experiences shortness of breath

A broken rib can take up to 12 weeks for complete healing. If you don't feel well after this time frame, seek medical attention. Consider seeing your doctor regularly to assess the healing process of your rib injury.

Why Do I Feel Pain When Sleeping With Rib Fractures?

Sleeping with broken ribs is like sleeping with shoulder pain, they come with many inconveniences, and various factors will affect how comfortable you'll be while sleeping. Likewise, numerous factors may cause you to experience sharp pain when you sleep with broken ribs compared to when you're awake. The first on the list is the change of temperature.

In lower temperatures, the body muscles contract to retain body heat. Additionally, coughing increases rib pain due to quick and successive expansion and contraction of the chest cavity.

When you sleep with broken ribs, your bones aren't contracting as they do at daytime. This is because your body releases cell regeneration hormone to accelerate the healing process. Keep in mind that you need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep if you want to fasten the broken rib healing process.

After you fall asleep, you no longer have control over your body movement. This might potentially lead to sharp pain in the night as you toss about your bed, putting pressure on the broken rib. 

Positions to Adopt When Sleeping With Broken Ribs

Note that trauma may lead to sharp frequent chest pain, making sleeping extremely difficult, especially if the extent of the trauma to the chest is severe. Most broken ribs are a result of a direct impact on the chest cavity.

Sleeping with broken ribs can be quite challenging. However, once you know the effective tips on how to rest comfortably despite your condition, you can rest assured of getting your shut-eye in no time.

So, how can you sleep with broken ribs? 

Below is a comprehensive highlight of the sleep positions to adopt if you're looking for comfort.

Related Content: How to sleep after cervical neck surgery

Sleeping While Sitting Upright

During the first few weeks of your rib injury, restrict your turning and stretching movements and try sleeping upright.

Ideally, this is the best sleep position for patients with broken ribs. Sleeping while sitting upright can help your broken rib heal quickly than lying down flat on the bed. Sleeping while lying down may exert unwanted pressure on your spine, which might be transferred to the broken ribs. This, in turn, causes the broken ribs to ache, making it difficult to get out of bed and to sleep comfortably.

When in this sleep position, ensure you have a pillow at your head and beneath your arms to prevent any involuntary movements when asleep.

Pillows are essential for such kinds of phenomena since they increase the degree of comfort. Many pillows are designed with a patient's needs in mind like the wedge pillow. A wedge pillow will keep the body elevated for pain relief.

Consider sleeping in a recliner for maximum comfort. You can also go for a chaise lounge chair or an adjustable bed for your mattress. 

The good thing about these chairs is that they come packed with exciting features like zero gravity. The gravitational option enables you to adjust your back and head to specific positions you feel comfortable in. 

Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back with broken ribs may prove painful due to the force exerted on the rib cage by the pressure emanating from the spine. The pain can give you sleepless nights, which causes slow healing. You might even experience hip pain depending on the firmness of your mattress.

Getting an adjustable bed can help improve your sleep quality. The adjustable bed comes with customizable features you can tweak to your own advantage. You can also purchase a mattress topper in case your mattress is too soft.

The "zero gravity" feature comes in handy when you want to assume an elevated but comfortable angle. You can also adjust the bed to sit up and lie down without straining too much.

Additionally place an ice pack over the broken ribs for about 20 minutes before retiring to bed to reduce the pain. This ensures that the pain subsides due to a temporary numbness. The ice pack also reduces the swelling on the fractured ribs significantly, helping you sleep better with rib pain. Make sure you wrap the ice pack in a clean cloth before applying it to the broken ribs.

While sleeping on your back isn't recommended when recovering from a broken rib injury, a slight elevation on your back while sleeping can allow your fractured ribs to receive an uninterrupted supply of blood, helping you sleep better. In conclusion, sleeping on your side and sitting upright are the best positions for broken ribs. 

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Practicing Deep Breathing

Your broken ribs are not fully healed until you have proper breathing and coughing. You can slowly practice deep breathing by doing simple breathing exercises before you go to bed. Deep breaths can be painful for people with broken ribs, especially if the injuries are in their initial stage.

Doctors recommend that you begin with shallow breathing exercises. This ensures that you don't cause further injury to your fractured ribs.

Keep in mind that deep breathing exercises are supposed to be taken under a qualified respiratory therapist, don't do it alone at home. If shallow breathing isn't done right, you risk pneumonia infections and lung infections among other respiratory illnesses.

Tip: For proper breathing and coughing, fold a blanket and hold it or a pillow against your chest gently when coughing to dampen the rib pain.

Pain Medication 

Pain relievers can be narcotics to keep your mind in a relaxed condition as your ribs heal. If the pain is not severe, consider using ibuprofen or naproxen. These pain medications can be bought over the counter, but have the consent of your doctor.

When using pain medications, follow the prescriptions faithfully. Don't take pain relievers more than the prescribed amount, even if you don't feel better, and fall asleep immediately.

Pain relievers may have tremendous effects on your body if you're a person ailing from liver diseases. Other health issues to watch out for are high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, kidney and heart disease. In addition, avoid smoking while using pain relievers.

Be Physically Active

It's normal to feel debilitated and want to rest when having a rib injury. But keep in mind that spending almost the entire day in bed can affect recovery. Besides improving your life and sleep quality, physical activities can help your immune system work even better and make your broken ribs heal quickly.

If your physician allows it, do some light physical activities before you go to bed, such as slow walking around the house, to help keep you active.

Find the Best Treatment Plan

Broken ribs can be painful and take longer to heal. The above information sheds light on how you can comfortably fall asleep and stay asleep with broken ribs. Different patients have different needs when it comes to choosing how they want to sleep.

Since each broken rib situation is different, feel free to choose any sleeping style, depending on your preference. All in all, ensure you seek professional medical advice to find the best treatment plan and avoid further complications.

55 thoughts on “How to Sleep with Broken Ribs – Sleep Better & Recover”

  1. I have been searching all over the internet for information to help me in my present condition, which I so clumsily acquired Wednesday a.m. (9/22/2021) when I tripped and fell full frontal onto the floor and fractured my 6th and 7th ribs. Have sharp, (literally breath-taking) shooting pain, underneath my left breast often, and wasn’t sure about how long to wear a brace which DOES help. And also the info about what position to sleep in was very helpful. This article had everything in it that I needed and has helped so much! Thank you guys for putting out such informative and helpful information.

    1. Hi Nancy. I had a very bad experience while taking the city bus to my bank. I was on the way back on June 23, 2022, when the bus driver suddenly stopped the bus and the Kinetic energy caused my body to slam into the arm rest on the seat caused my rib to be injured. I was aware of how injured I was until I got off the bus and began feeling stabbing pains and yelping out in pain. Passers by must have thought me weird but I was really sane but in pain. Anyway, I have not yet seen my doctor but I will get x-rays when I do. I now sleep on my better side with a towel between by breasts so the injured side breast does not sag and pull at the injured area. It is still uncomfortable to get up from that position but that seems to work. I also put an ice pack on the area and where a loose fitting sports bra. Bras with underwire are not recommended. Breathing is essential to get air in your lungs so I am doing exercises to avoid getting pneumonia. This is my 4th fractured rib and hopefully my last. Hope you have healed up and are doing better.

      1. How long was it before you could go to sleep in a bed in a normal position? I did not fracture my ribs but damaged ribs 8 to 11 and have had laser treatment but it still pulls when I try to lie down either on my good side or my back.

      1. Hi Gabe. I had a fall at home and sustained chest injuries . Especially my rib cage which is now healing after 2 weeks but I’m experiencing a fit like feeling in my nose on and off. I went to doc who prescribed naseptin cream to put in nose. It is helping a little I think but hasn’t got rid of it yet. Then again it’s only my second day to use it. Importantly it doesn’t bother me in bed…..so far anyway…any comments appreciated…. cheers Kevin…

        1. Hi Kevin,
          Sorry about the fall. Hope you feel better soon. I think it’s best to use the cream according to prescription until it’s done then see if they’ll be improvement. If not, you can go back to the doctor and give him a report. In case it worsens while using the cream also stop using and go back to the doctor. Otherwise, if it doesn’t bother you in bed, I’d say your beddings are good for the situation. If you start feeling more pain in the ribs when sleeping, you can try using a weighted blanket for pain.. here are some of our favorite picks https://thesleepshopinc.com/weighted-blankets-for-pain/

        2. Unfortunately, one thing this article does not address is the use of braces or wrappings. You are better off not to use either in order to reduce the risk of pneumonia.

      2. I have found that the best results are from sleeping on the side with the broken ribs to help with the pressure. My ribs were actually broken and not just fractured so that may have an effect on the positioning.

        1. I was told by a nurse friend not to sleep on the side with the problem as it puts too much pressure on the ribs. I, like you, felt better sleeping on a heating pad on the affected side.

    2. Great information!! Thank you so much!!!! Your sleeping recommendations really are the best I’ve read and they really do work. Getting enough sleep is huge!! This is all very appreciated

    3. Unfortunately, one thing this article does not address is the use of braces rappings. You are better off not to use either in order to reduce the risk of pneumonia.

  2. Broken ribs 3rd and 7th it has been three weeks now . Still hurting but don’t have that sharp pain. Your information has help me understand my injury. Thank you

  3. I’m a 73 yr old female, 5 days ago I fell whilst walking my 2 small dogs. A rather excitable dog walking on a long extended lead very quickly encircled myself and my two dogs. I didn’t have a hand free to prevent my fall. I landed heavily on the pavement on my left breast. I knew immediately that I had damaged my ribs as the pain was instant and it’s been constant ever since. I’m grateful for the advice you’ve provided as it confirms what I’ve been doing thus far is the best course of action.
    I had hoped the sharp pain which occurs on movement, coughing, bending forward, raising arms to dress, brushing hair, lifting a kettle etc would have subsided by now. Sleeping is difficult I’m now going to try ice packs as you suggest. Thank you for your advice.

    1. Jenny,
      Hope you’re on the way to a full recovery. I am 73 also. I fell 6 days ago using a swivel chair to get up from the floor while exercising. I broke one rib in the back. Wow! This sucker hurts. I appreciate your comments.
      When do the stabbing pains go away when you bend, get up, roll over…
      Did you find sleep illusive?
      Thanks
      Diane

    1. Hello sorry to heard you fell, I fell 1 day ago and I went to the hospital.
      My ribs have a hair line fractured and my muscles are tarred in between my ribs. Very very painful but I find sleeping upright a bit and on my side has help a lot and I got medication for the inflammation from the dr which is been amazing it really has helped. This is my second night and I feel better, still in lots of pain but better then two nights ago

  4. I appreciate all the information provided here. One thing I am unsure about is do rib bones broken in the back cause more symptoms?
    I am 70 yrs old and fell 6 ft from a ladder. I fell on my side breaking 7 ribs, I also caused unstructured damage to my hip. This was on Sept 27, I spent 3 days in hospital an 7 days in rehab.
    I am numb in front of the side with the broken ribs, I still can’t sleep in my adjustable bed. I had to buy a lift chair because I could not use my right arm to use my recliner.
    I assume there is still hope but getting discouraged.

    1. Hello Jeannette,

      Your condition sounds like mine and I have not found anyone who can help explain my numbness in the front and sharp stabbing pain in my back. Can’t lay down, can’t lean back. In my third week abs nothing seems to be getting better.

      Can I ask how you are doing now and what ended up working for you?

      1. Hi Jeannette and Stanley, have you tried consulting your doctor/surgeon about this? All I know is that, unfortunately, injuries and surgeries involving bones, ribs and joints usually take very long to heal (even up to 12 months). After my wrist surgery over 4 months down the line the pain felt like it did on the first day, sometimes even worse. You guys may have to persevere a bit longer before you feel some relief. But do check in with your doctor, they may have a solution. In the meantime, use the right mattress, pillow and sleeping position. Get well soon and stay positive!

  5. I am a 81 year old woman with 3 broken ribs. Poor sleep was a dehabilatating problem which affects your total state of being. Reading productive healing insights on iPhone and common sense has greatly improved my well being.

    Those are regular icing; taking it easy, no quickie turns or flourishes; walk with cane whether you think you need to or not. Not much of a druggie person now
    taking Ibuprofen AM & PM; use what I call a (grabber) bar for picking up stuff out of reach – cane helps getting objects in place for pickup. Talk slowly & breathe as deeply as possible to stop/prevent coughing. Appropriate pillow
    Against body when coughing

    And I have an old, almost older than me recliner which allowed me a good night’s sleep when I thought to sleep in it last night!

  6. I’m Mike Palay, 67 years old from the Philippines. I have undergone a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG-a tripple open heart bypass surgery) last year Sept. 01, 2020. I’m still experiencing severe chest pain causing sleepless nights every day. Everytime I move, I hear clicking and flopping of my breast bone. I surmised my breast bone has not yet totally healed. What medicines or advises do you recommend for me to do. Thank you and best regards.

    1. I also had open heart. They should have wired your breastbones together. See your primary and get x-rays asap. Should not be hearing noises from your chest.

      1. Hello, I fell over the edge edge of bathtub six weeks ago. Severe pain and inability to breathe ensued. Two days later I got x-rays. They couldn’t find a fracture but I still have pain and popping noises under my arm, breast and around back. Your information has explained a lot of my symptoms. Are these noises cartilage and should I be concerned. I am 67 with osteoporosis .

  7. This was a wonderful article. I wake up with pain worse than any in the day. I was so blessed to read that sleeping in a recliner helps. I sleep on my stomach!! And evidently makes is worse! Thank you so much for sleeping tips!!

  8. Hi Mike, my name is Adrian and I had a quadruple bypass in 2013 at age 65. I experienced the clicking and flopping as well. At times I thought my whole rib cage was moving around. It all passes with time although it seems to be taking longer in your case. I had terrible side effects from medications so I weaned myself off them. The only thing I carry with me is my nitrate spray which I hardly ever use. I found that diet and walking (2 hrs plus)helped a great deal and got me back to as normal for my age. Injuries havenever stopped me from doing anything. Hope this is helpful

  9. I’m a 60 yr old woman. I broke 11 ribs, one lung was partially collapsed. I had a broken elbow and 2 brain bleeds. That was Oct 24,2021 this is Dec 20,2021. When laying down I prop myself up but every time I raise up I have terrible pain in my chest. I don’t know why it hurts so bad.

  10. Hi I m writing this from Mozambique , I m Mr Naik, last week 22nd Dec I slipped in Bath room and got hurt ribs 7 8 and 9. As explained in article breathing , moving, slepping are difficult. Hence got this article read now I m trying these sleeping techniques from today. Thank you for some mental relief after reading this article which will be great help . Let me be optimistic to get well soon. BYE.

    1. I slipped on the shower stepped on some foam&on the bathtub floor i was hit my right back on the border…pain was not bad after a few days pain would be like stabbing took x-ray 9th rib is cracked. So the moral is b carefull some inocent thing may get u in pain&down…have to do a hike in about 6 weeks so I hope everything works out

      1. I’m 68, fell off a tippy stool in our closet today. Hit something on my left flank side. X-ray shows fractured lower rib. I’m not sure how to sleep. When I try to roll over it hurts so bad. I’m hoping I won’t be in such bad pain for long. We have a 13 day camping trip in 2 weeks!

  11. I spent 8 days in hospital with double pneumonia, collapsed lobe of left lung, pleurisy and I found out 2 days ago, bilateral Fractured ribs. In my shock and pain I completely forgot to ask how to deal with pain and sleep at night. Your article has helped and I’m still sleeping and resting lots but am beginning to see slight improvements. I’m grateful for the explanation

  12. We were in a horrific car accident last weekend, fracturing several ribs of my companion and myself. The area’s Trauma Center stabilized us and sent us home the next morning instructing us to follow up with our GP asap. I had to battle them to be seen next week! This article was informative and comforting. What should I expect my GP to ck, ask, look at? This is alot of care I had no idea I needed. I feel like I’m winging it here without guidance- except yours.

    1. My husband and I were also recently in a very bad accident – a car came at us head on. It was a highway and my husband was going highway speed -60 mph. I ended up with 10 fractured ribs and a fractured sternum – most on the left side. this was 4 weeks ago and I am starting to not be in excruciating pain – just bad pain in my sternum. (thank God we always wear our seat belts.) I was in the trauma center for 4 days. My husband’s shoulder was badly strained. I have found sleeping on the couch on the side with the fractures to be the most comfortable.

  13. HI, Thanks for your wonderful article. My four broken ribs did not heal correctly.
    They are stuck now out of place for the last week. Injury occurred a year ago.
    Is there any hope?

  14. Jenny,
    Hope you’re on the way to a full recovery. I am 73 also. I fell 6 days ago using a swivel chair to get up from the floor while exercising. I broke one rib in the back. Wow! This sucker hurts. I appreciate your comments.
    When do the stabbing pains go away when you bend, get up, roll over…
    Did you find sleep illusive?
    Thanks
    Diane

    1. Hi Jenny
      I broke my ribs on Jan 1st
      It took me 1 1/2 weeks for the pain to go down. I was also using lidocaine patches. Now I am 3 weeks and not using any pain medication.
      And this artlcle was helpfull in sleeping as I did buy recliner and it made my pain lot lot better.
      Sleeping is the biggest challenge in rib fractures.

  15. I am Rakesh Saxena 70 year old from India.Thank God I did not break my 1,2 and 3rd rib by falling flat on my face in my drive way.My lips got cut, bruised up all over,but worst was damage to rib cage.lot of swelling developed with pain.Today is fourth day and midnight.As I was unable to sleep due to mucus uprising and pain, I searched for sleep ready and found your Article.
    I have only one word for it- excellent job.
    Thanks

  16. 91 fell yesterdayhours ago No XR test but sure I have fractured 2-3 ribs because of the localised pain Trying not take more pain killers because of constipation
    I know that the healing will take 4-6 weeks but when does the acute severe pain ease.

  17. I’m 56 and fell off my porch and landed on my left side on a cinder block. It knocked the wind out of me. I have several large bruises. The E.R. Doctor told me I had broken ribs 5,6,7, and they are displaced plus I have bronchitis. Sleeping is hard. I live around a lot in my sleep how do I get comfortable enough?? I’m needing sleep. I’m on pain meds a few more days along with antibiotics. Please some advise what to do so my back and ribs stop sounding like someone is trying to click them together

  18. I am no stranger to breaking bones. Breaking one or two ribs, I was able to muscle through ten hour work days delivering mail, while keeping up training for triathlon and Australian rules football. If it’s going to be painful anyway, I always had fun getting lost in the process. My fractured pelvis and hip replacement 18 months ago, I thought was the most painful thing ever, but I came back, at age 60, and had some of my best races, a 2nd, 3rd, 5th, overall, a 2nd at Nationals Aquathlon, and qualifying forIronman 70.3 worlds. Looking forward for another great year, when a slippery wet bridge, broke ALL my ribs, my collarbone, blood in the lungs, and hopefully temporary heart damage. I should point out both hips held up, as my demands on them have caused bone to grow over and secure them! I was up and walking ASAP, as a regular gait enabled regular breathing. In the trauma ward, it was easy to see, my fitness, and knowing my body, put me in front of everyone. But, sleeping is impossible. Not every night is a good one. Trauma center was ridiculous, noise, lights, etc,home, sleepless is more relaxing. I’m searching for that perfect angle. Upright is the best, but the moment you slide, ouch. Not a big fan of opioids, trying to get through with ad few as possible, but they help that initial sleep. Problem, that deep slumber equals more pain. But just like in a race, I am relentless in the face of adversity, and I can see you all are depressed by the whole thing. Done this so so many times, will do it again, the joy of what I do far out ways any temporary discomfort like this. Looking for recliners online now, day 8, about 12 hours sleep since crash, sore, but my spirits soar, we can do this, and have a beer and a laugh soon enough.

    1. “the joy of what I do far out ways any temporary discomfort like this”

      I get it. Riding my horse…can’t wait to heal and be back doing what I love.

  19. Thanks for posting this. I’m a mystery writer and was just trying to research info on broken ribs for an upcoming story, but had never thought of how it would affect the character while he was sleeping. This will make my story richer and more realistic. Thanks again!

    1. 16 days ago I fell in the bathroom . I was taken to the hospital and they took x-rays I have three fractured back rib bones, #2 #3 and #6. At first I couldn’t move without severe pain. The doctor also did a CT Scan to see how bad the brakes were. I still have trouble getting comfortable. My tail bone is hurting because of sitting so much. Thank you for the suggestion I will give them a try.

  20. I am a 59 year old male who broke his strrnum on a seat belt in a car crash.

    Was a clean break with no displacement of bits.

    However, the pain is off the charts. 9/10 all the time. I have Endone tablets but I only take those to sleep. Just over 7 weeks into recovery and the pain is no better.

  21. Im 53, fell off ladder 5 weeks ago, broke 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th rib, each one in 2 places, so got flail chest. Horrendous pain. in Hospital for a week, morphine for 4 weeks. I sleep sat on the sofa with duvet, lucky if I get 5 hours sleep a night, usually less but it is getting easier, hopefully will try the bed in a week. Important to stay positive and know that it will get better,

  22. Great article and it has already helped me get a better sleep routine.

    I broke on the right hand side ribs 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 ( 7 of these ribs are broken more than twice) from a mountain biking crash 10 days ago. I spent 6 day in hospital.

    I’ve found that mild exercise, like walking around the block, has been great. I have also just stick to over the counter pain killers. For me understanding where I am with my pain has helped in the day and night.

    Finally I’ve done some deep relaxation and meditation, this can really help with falling asleep and maintaining natural pain control.

  23. I was t boned driver side last week. I am lucky to be alive but broke 5 ribs. I have been in excruciating pain. Pain meds barely help. I have developed a terrible cough and the pain is unbearable. I cannot sleep and have ice on now. Will try to lay on injured side . Owch

  24. Hi team I had a nasty fall on a rug that slipped under me face planted onto a concrete floor.
    Felt winded for 10 minutes but couldn’t get over the pain of my my ribs and strernump
    I Al sure I have broken several rib’s and possibly cracked my sternum.
    Problem is I contracted Covid on the same outing and can’t access medical treatment.
    Any advice would be comforting.

  25. I recently suffered a fall that may or may not have fractured my left side lower rib(s).. the pain is excruciating; my mobility is limited and can’t even think of getting to my primary.. Having read this article has helped me understand how to get some sleep and tolerate the pain. just suck it up!

  26. I had cancer in my left breast and received radiation there. Consequenty, the radiation weakened the ribs beneath that breast and made them very weak and brittle. I’m not sure how it happened but I began experiencing severe pain in that area and a trip to my doc confirmed that I have 5 fractured ribs. I also have auto immune disease so healing has been terribly slow due to the medications I must take. All of this happened six months ago, and it feels like my ribs will never heal. I still experience constant pain and feel the clicking and popping going on 24/7. Is surgery something I’ll eventually have to look forward to, to get back to normal?

  27. How long was it before you could go to sleep in a bed in a normal position? I did not fracture my ribs but damaged ribs 8 to 11 and have had laser treatment but it still pulls when I try to lie down either on my good side or my back.

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