Spinal Cord Injury and Sleep

Getting a Good Night’s Rest

To say getting a solid night of sleep is challenging when you can’t move would be one of the greatest generalizations I’ve ever written. I was already a light sleeper before my injury. It’d usually take me an hour to sleep. I could never relax.

And to say these past 19 years of being paralyzed have been tricky when it comes to falling asleep would be the second biggest generalizations I’ve written. I struggle every night with finding sleep. Whether it’s back pain, out-of-control spasms or every piece of skin I can still feel driving me batty, sleep can be the elusive fairy to many people with disabilities.

When I was in rehab, I remember meeting the guy in the room next to me, Sam, who was a high school football player and suffered a severe head injury from a car accident only a few days after my injury. It was a bad accident, and even though he didn’t have any permanent spinal cord damage like me, he still developed some wacky sleeping habits after his injury. One of the strangest things he’d do was sleep with his covers over his head, just like putting a sheet over a bird cage (to help it fall asleep). And he’d sleep with his door open so everyone walking by could witness his bizarre sleeping style. I saw it one day and was intrigued.

After seeing how Sam slept, I tried his method the following night and much to my surprise, I found he was onto something! See, when you have a spinal cord injury, everywhere on your body that you can still feel (which sadly isn’t a lot for most) is heightened tenfold….one hundred fold even. Basically if wherever you can feel on your body isn’t perfectly comfortable when you’re trying to fall asleep, you’re not going to. But with a blanket over your head, it gives you additional tactile sensation “up-top” that you’re not getting with your legs down below. Simply “feeling” the blanket can knock me out on some groggy nights. I love it.

A blanket however, despite its awesomeness, is not the miracle answer to my sleeping problems. An eye mask, earplugs and perfectly situated pillows are also just as critical to my falling-asleep method each night. Oh the joys of SCI. They’re never-ending.

How do you like to sleep? Have any tricks?

Photo courtesy of rachel CALAMUSA

6 replies
  1. Meaghan
    Meaghan says:

    Omigosh!!! That’s how I sleep when I’m alone! It is unbelievably comforting. When I tuck my blanket under my head, I like how it slightly cradles my neck, and it keeps me warm. I’m much colder when I first go to sleep– then, a few hours later, I get very hot. It disturbs my boyfriend when he stays over, so I just cuddle with him instead of creating my “bed fort”. ;)

  2. Tiffiny Carlson
    Tiffiny Carlson says:

    Awesome! lol It is definitely a quad thing. Being not able to regulate your temp reaaaaally makes sleep hard some nights. My ex-bf used to call it “Parakeet Mode”

  3. CJohn Stanchina
    CJohn Stanchina says:

    While I generally don’t have difficulty falling asleep, I have had trouble re-falling asleep once I wake up four or so hours later when my body tells me it’s time to shift. Just a couple of days ago, my wife turned me on to the natural supplement melatonin, and it has made it far easier to fall asleep again, following a position change.

  4. Audacity
    Audacity says:

    I often sleep with my legs crossed — my left shin over my right. The reason for this is because my right leg gets wicked spasms sometimes. By “pinning it down,” the spasms don’t wake me up as easily.

  5. Tiffiny
    Tiffiny says:

    @CJohn, melatonin eh? I should really finally try it….

    @Audacity, does your skin ever get red marks though?

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