Sleep is vital for everyone. Having difficulty sleeping is not normal and should always be investigated.
Many people with physical disabilities have difficulty sleeping and may find it difficult to position and move themselves during the night.
The reasons for sleeping difficulties are often the same as the wider community. If however, the reasons you have difficulty sleeping include respiratory (chest) problems, temperature control or pain and discomfort, then it is likely to be linked to your physical disability. Other reasons are unlikely to be linked to your physical disability.
Common problems experienced by people with physical disabilities include:
- Pain and discomfort due to positioning and reduced ability to change position, muscle spasms, other sources of musculoskeletal pain or gastroesophageal reflux
- Reduced ability to control temperature overnight
- Pressure injury due to positioning
- Respiratory ill health further reduced due to positioning
- Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Reduced melatonin
Important considerations for people with physical disabilities to understand include:
- Normal hours of sleep across the lifespan
- Sensory needs to allow a restful bedroom
- The impact blue light from screens can have on sleep
- The impact sleep quality can have on your overall mental health
- The impact of physical activity on sleep
- The impact of other health conditions on your sleep e.g. epilepsy and medications
There are a combination of medical and therapy supports available to help you.
These websites have useful fact sheets on different types of sleep problems experienced by many people:
Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists can support you by assessing your sleep environment, your overall daily position and mobility and any area of your body that has pain. By looking at what happens over 24 hours every day, supports can be recommended to manage any problems and assist you to sleep.
General Practitioners (GPs) and Respiratory or Sleep Specialists can assist you if there are medical reasons for your sleep problems. Start by discussing your concerns with your GP.
A team approach is best if you have difficulty sleeping. Share your concerns and management plan with all health professionals supporting you so that they can work together.
For more information:
Pruitt, D. W., & Tsai, T. (2009). Common medical comorbidities associated with cerebral palsy. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 20(3), 453–467. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2009.06.002