Spinal Cord Injury Sleep Problems: Sleep Management, Risks and Causes

Many of us take the health benefits of sleep for granted sometimes, but the importance of getting enough sleep for a better quality of life is prevalent. Lack of sleep can seriously affect a person’s mental health, attention span, memory and decision-making.

spinal cord injury sleep problems

There is an extension of health issues enhanced by sleep deprivation with spinal cord injuries, such as increased pain, low immune system, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight issues, and depression. Spinal cord injury sleep problems will most likely affect almost every patient.

The importance of sleep

Sleep problems after spinal cord injury are more prominent than in an able-bodied everyday life. Sleeping helps us feel refreshed each morning and remain focused throughout the day. It’s recommended that we have at least 8 hours of sleep a night, with limited interruptions, to experience deep sleep phases, such as the REM phase.

Sleeping well means having more energy to take full advantage of the day, limiting the need for naps and allowing for a well-rested evening of sleep.

How does SCI affect sleep?

Struggling to sleep isn’t a specific symptom of spinal cord injury, but having an SCI can affect your sleep in a number of ways. It doesn’t necessarily prevent you from taking the steps to a better night’s sleep, but here are just some of the ways it could take effect:

  • Pain that keeps you awake during the night or causes difficulty sleeping
  • Limited physical activity to help break down energy
  • Up in the night numerous times for care, such as going to the bathroom or changing a catheter
  • Spasticity
  • High-level SCI reduces melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle
  • Respiratory problems
  • Thermoregulation – this can disrupt body temperature, making it difficult to sleep
  • Poor mental health – experiencing a traumatic injury can leave someone feeling incredibly stressed and unable to relax.

Spinal cord injury causes the body to work much harder, taking a tremendous amount of energy to perform regular movements and sensations, making sleep essential to those with an SCI needing to restore their vitality at night.

Management methods of spinal cord injury sleep problems

There are numerous management techniques those with spinal cord injury can practice. Ideally, these management methods will identify the issue behind the sleep problems and then a treatment plan to find the solution.


Prescription sleep medication can help people with their sleeping patterns, but it is likely a short-term solution. Relying on sleep medication is not recommended for a long time as side effects can include feeling sedated or sleepy throughout the day.

No more naps

Although tempting for most, napping can prevent you from feeling tired at night and leave your body clock out of control. If you need a nap, try to take them earlier in the day and limit them to 20-30 minutes.

Increase physical activity where possible

Physical activity allows the body to wear itself out and calls for a good night’s sleep. This can be a difficult task for those with high-level spinal cord injuries, but it is possible in numerous ways with rehabilitation and therapy.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy

CBT can help pinpoint and cope with negative thinking or anxiety that causes sleepless evenings. Methods often involve practising mindfulness, meditation and a bedtime routine.

CPAP device

Struggling with sleep apnea may require a CPAP device that pumps pressurised air into the airways during periods of sleep.

Focus on diet

Following a healthy diet helps a lot with a healthy lifestyle. Eating before bed can affect digestion, causing it to tamper with sleep. Limit alcohol, sugar and caffeine intake, especially in the evening to improve sleep patterns.

Learning to sleep well

Spinal cord injury affects everyone in different ways. Some may find their sleep is not as difficult as others or likewise. Managing sleep issues after SCI will take time and different methods. Patience is essential, and when you have mastered your sleep, you will begin the road to recovery with confidence.

Call Aspire Law

If you or a family member have recently sustained a spinal cord injury, or suffering from spinal cord injury sleep problems, you will need expert advice and assistance and could be eligible for spinal injury compensation. Please give us a call, and one of our spinal injury solicitors will get in touch with you immediately.