Ever 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?