Insomnia & SCI: 5 Ways to Beat it

People with spinal cord injuries have been reporting trouble with sleeping for years. It was until recently that evidence finally became available to confirm this. In a study of over 620 people with spinal cord injuries, many reported having insomnia higher than the general population. The reason why? There are many theories, but scientists think that paralysis has the ability to disrupt the circadian rhythm.

That doesn't mean that sleep will elude you until you are cured of your injury. Spasms, temperature dysregulation, and bad positioning are also to blame. You just need to employ some creative ways to finally get sleep. Here are 5 must-try ideas below.


Good old fashioned exercise can have an enormous effect on how you feel at the end of the day, helping you sleep. When in a wheelchair, it can be difficult to get exercise at home but try to get any kind of aerobic exercise you can. For many wheelchair users, they will watch exercise videos on Youtube to get a good workout. Zumba is a great workout. Lifting weights is another good way to work out from a wheelchair. Just be careful not to work out too late in the day. It can get your adrenaline up and make it hard to fall asleep.

Melatonin Supplements

Many Americans are now taking melatonin supplements, which is something your body already produces around 2 hours before you go to bed every night. Taking a supplement however will help you get sleepier faster, which many find helpful. One of the best things about melatonin is that it is not addictive and available over the counter. Doctors, however, do not recommend taking this every night, as it can disrupt your body’s natural melatonin production.

Turn Off Screens

Researchers have discovered that the blue light emitted from cell phone screens and televisions stimulates the brain and makes it difficult to sleep. Most sleep specialists recommend not looking at your phone or the television at least 1 hour before going to sleep. You should also not sleep too close to your television if it is on as well. Exposure to daylight can also help your body produce enough melatonin to help you sleep. Make sure you expose yourself to daylight each day to enable this process.

Find a Lulling Mindspace

Whatever you can do to turn off your mind, try doing it before you go to bed or while you’re in bed having difficulty sleeping. Many find meditation an effective way to get in a great mind space that helps them to stop thinking and sleep. There are many apps available that can teach you how to meditate. Another effective way to turn off your mind is to think of a reoccurring topic that is calming (design) and repetitive. This can help your mind quiet itself and help you fall asleep.

No Caffeine 6 Hours Prior

Caffeine can be a huge cause of insomnia as well. Sleep specialists recommend that you don’t consume any more caffeine 6 hours before going to sleep. Soda at night should also be avoided.

Find a Comfortable Position (and Pillow)

Getting comfortable in bed can be difficult when you are paralyzed, and this is a cause of insomnia for many. Make sure you always have good neck support no matter what. Memory foam and MyPillow have received high marks from people with paralysis.

Don’t feel alone in your fight against post-SCI insomnia. Many experience sleep apnea as well, so make sure you get tested by a sleep specialist while trying to resolve your sleep issues.

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Topics: Health & Exercise, Advice & Tips

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