Category Archives: Sleep deprivation

How to Fall Asleep When You’re an Insomniac Quadriplegic

nosleepEver since I can remember, I’ve never been able to sleep very well. My earliest memories of jealousy were at slumber parties, envying my friends for being able to fall asleep so quickly. “Why couldn’t I be like them? What was wrong with me?” was all I could think.

After becoming paralyzed at age 14 from the chest down, with only partial arm movement and no trunk control or balance, sleeping only became that much harder. It was much more difficult to get comfortable, especially after my caregivers left for the night. Adjusting a pillow or blanket was now a ridiculous, monumental task.

And it wasn’t just that. The heightened sensation of my upper body, namely my shoulders and clavicles, also made it harder to fall asleep. Everything now had to be absolutely perfect up top where I could still feel. My hair had to be up, my pillow needed to be pulled down low behind my neck for support (because of my neck fusion/plate) and I could never wear pajamas; too tactile-y.

This is no exaggeration, but I probably spend at least 15 to 30 minutes every night trying to get my upper body as comfortable as possible so that I can fall asleep. And after getting my pillow and blankets situated, I need to get my room ready for sleep. This means a block-out shade so no light whatsoever filters in, as well as a continuously running fan for white noise.

After all this I need to take my meds, which now help me fall asleep. Baclofen, Oxybutynin, these are all drugs that prevent spasms, yet also make you very sleepy. There weren’t prescribed for sleep. My body however is hooked on the the sleepy, drowsy effect of these drugs for getting to sleep each night.

I also can’t forget two more things – actual objects – I need so that I can fall asleep: My silky purple eye mask and my Mack’s Aqua Block earplugs. These items are true godsends, getting rid of any noise and light I couldn’t otherwise.

First, in order to put on the eyemask, I cut off the head strap (it gives me a headache) and I just place it over my eyes when I lay down (luckily I sleep on my back). And I purchased long-as-I-could-find ear plugs so I could get them in/out of my ears on my own. I’ve found Mack’s Aqua Block earplugs to be the best for this so far. My entire sleeping ability improved by at least 40% because of these earplugs.

The silver-lining about my insomnia is that I’m not the only one with paralysis who’s this way, and I suppose there’s some comfort in knowing that. These days, it takes me around 15 minutes to crash once everything is in place, and that’s about average for quads.

And on those nights when sleep still eludes me, no matter, I figure I can catch up on my sleep when I’m dead, and that’s totally alright with me. Viva la vida life, SCI amigos.

How do you fall asleep when you can’t?

Products Mentioned

– IKEA TUPPLUR Block-Out Blinds

100% Silk Purple Eyemask

Mack’s Aqua Block Earplugs

When I’m In Bed at Night, That’s When the Dark Thoughts Come

We all are susceptible to being visited by our personal demons in bed at night. Lying there, wide awake before sleep comes, thinking about everything in our lives; it’s easy. Since I broke my neck when I was 14, going to sleep at night has never been the same.

When I’m lying there, there is one thought that overtakes my mind more than any other – Eric Hesk – the boy who was at the lake when I was injured; the one who told me the water was deep enough as a joke to see what would happen. This was what he did my entire life since we grew up together – let’s trick Tiffiny into doing something stupid and laugh.

See my brother and Eric and his brothers were like the big group of crazy guys as kids. They were always up to doing something insane, whether it was building a tree house on private property or playing in flooded out ditches after a rainstorm. I would tag along, hoping they’d eventually would see my worth as a part of the group, but that never happened.

What did end up happening a lot was that my naiveté got in the way. “Hey Tiffiny, drive your bike over here into the flooded ditch and see what happens,” and they would all laugh as my bike flipped forward when I hit a submerged drain pipe. It was all fun and games, and I was even sure that Eric liked me secretly, but he had no idea the seriousness of the prank he was about to pull.

As I lay awake in bed at night nowdays, I see Eric in the water below looking up at me telling me, “Go Tiffiny, jump,” as the line behind me got impatient (there were eight of us all hanging out). And then I see myself right afterwards, lying in the water face down, floating helplessly and unable to move anything. For some reason despite it being 20 years after my injury, I now think of this more than ever.

Perhaps I’m finally realizing that my injury is very likely never going to get better. I’ve always held out hope, and still someone do, that a cure for spinal cord injury will happen in my lifetime, but now that it’s been two full decades, I’m not so sure a cure is as close as they would like us to think. They can still barely get rats to walk, let alone humans.

While on a road trip, I met a man who was newly injured and he asked me if the longer you’re injured, the easier it becomes. If he would’ve asked me this 10 years ago, I would’ve said absolutely it gets easier, but he asked me this three years ago, so I hold him the truth – no it doesn’t. Do you ever get used to something so sad? It’s impossible.

I’m so happy when sleep finally comes; sometimes I’ll take melatonin to help too. Ad when I wake up – all of those dark thoughts are nowhere to be found. It’s so strange, but they only seem to come out at night. In the morning, I’m all “forget the past and move forward” and I’m grateful for it. I couldn’t live in a dark place morning and night. That is one thing I refuse to do.

How do you stop dark thoughts from invading your mind?

Product mentioned

– Nature Made Melatonin

Photo courtesy of Flickr CC

Insomnia Essentials When You’re Literally Stuck in Bed

Over the last eight years I’ve developed a bad case of insomnia, and lately it’s worse because my arms are weaker and adjusting myself in bed is more difficult.  Definitely not fun. And when I get in bed, I’m there until someone comes in the morning to get me back out.

It all started because of a big move. I moved downtown where it’s inevitably louder on a daily basis. 30% of time there’s construction going on right outside your window, car alarms, and people yelling at one another on the sidewalk.  Quietness is definitely not an attribute to use when talking about my neighborhood.

I quickly discovered of course that getting solid interrupted sleep when you live in the city takes some getting used to, or if you’re like me, you never get used to it and find a few essential items help you fall asleep instead.  And I’m not talking about Ambien either.  While I still rarely get 8 hours of sleep, I can still get great sleep, but only if I have my must-haves.

If you’re suffering from insomnia and have a disability, check out my must-have items to help me fall asleep.

Silk eye mask

An eye mask is a huge must, but not all eye masks are created equal.  Fabric is key when choosing an eye mask. Silk eye masks are smooth and great for the skin because they won’t anger your pores.  Avoid terrycloth eye masks because they can be too itchy. Also, I sleep on my back every night because of limited mobility, and the one bonus of this position is that I can “wear” my eye mask by setting it on my face, nixing the strap  Having an eye mask strap on all night can give many people, including me, a wicked headache.

Ear plugs

Ear plugs are another must for beating insomnia. While some people like to hear white noise or even a television when trying to fall asleep, I like to hear absolutely nothing, and that means no sirens, no late night bar stranglers, nothing but perfect quietness.  My fingers are paralyzed however and the average pair of ear plugs won’t work for me. What I found on however was a pair of ear plugs made for swimming that have tiny quarter inch nubs on each end, making them perfect for grabbing with my thumb and forefinger; the two fingers I can still sort-of use.


This is a natural supplement, mimicking a chemical found in the brain that helps us feel sleepy.  About a year ago I bought a bottle of melatonin and have been taking it since.  I love how I can pop a pill that’s not a crazy drug and get sleepy. But please, be wary of how much you take each night.  3 to 5 mg is just enough. Try taking anything more and it may help you fall sleep, but you may develop some mouth sores in the process. Stick to the lower doses and see how your body responds.

Take your sleepy meds at night

Another smart thing you can do to make yourself tired is to take any medicines that you take on a daily basis that cause sleepiness right before going to bed.  This can be one of the best ways to get sleep without having to resort to stronger drugs.  I take 20 mg of Baclofen and 5 mg of Oxybutynin and I make sure I take them at night. Holy cow do these medicines help me get sleepy.

There you have it – how a quad falls asleep when battling insomnia, and I can’t forgot one more thing that helps me fall asleep: House Hunters International.  There’s something awesome about watching people move overseas into beautiful homes that makes me want to fall asleep and dream.

Do you experience insomnia?  How you fall asleep?

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