Sleep Guide for People With Disabilities

Sleep Guide for People With Disabilities

Sleep Guide for People With Disabilities

People living with different disabilities are often misrepresented in issues concerning sleep and related products since their conditions require special attention. The situation worsens as they are more likely to lose sleep, experience sleeping disorders, suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), or daytime sleepiness.

People can suffer from mental or physical disabilities, having varying care needs. It’s essential to identify the condition you are suffering from before a remedy is presented to curb it. Once these issues are determined, specialists develop an approach to deal with the effects and offer insights on improving your sleeping pattern.

This guide contains relevant information on how people living with disabilities can identify the sleep requirements for their conditions and how to achieve more fulfilling and high-quality sleep. 

Some people find it challenging to keep a constant track of sleep patterns after incurring a back injury. While this may be a sign of insomnia, hyposomnia, or hypersomnia, the fact remains that disabled people may not be obtaining restorative, restful, or adequate sleep.

The main challenge is the lack of easy solutions for these sleeping issues in people with disabilities. However, their caretakers are mandated to take the relevant measures to reduce these effects and ensure they get the best quality sleep. This ranges from getting the correct beddings, encouraging proper sleeping styles and habits, eating the right diet to curb sleeping challenges, and getting the needed medical attention.

Due to the lack of a one-size-fits-all approach to deal with sleeping disorders resulting from disabilities, the following article is compiled to help you deal with these issues depending on your condition. It also has updated and modern remedies that help you tackle sleeping problems for a more fulfilling and restful sleep.

Physical Disabilities and Sleep

Physical disabilities range from temporary to long-term or permanent. They include mild cases of repairable broken bones that heal quickly to prolonged crippling conditions that may last a lifetime. 

Most sleep disorders arising from physical disabilities can be contained through a physical solution such as improving the bedside setup and buying the right type of mattress. 

However, mental disabilities are the leading cause of poor sleep and can limit you from getting enough rest needed for daily functions.

Sleep Problems Associated with Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities occur in different forms, and each may exhibit a separate sleeping problem from the other. However, most sleeping problems resulting from physical disabilities are connected and can be curbed by adhering to a specific physical routine, getting the recommended sleeping aids, and therapy. 

The following sections focus on physical disabilities with direct limitations to adequate sleep. For example, when you are suffering from a broken leg, you may need support to keep the casted leg comfortable when you sleep.

Among the most common physical disabilities likely to interfere with your quality sleep are:

Spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) manifest in different ways, ranging from manageable pains in your back to full-blown quadriplegic. This means there’s no single approach to control sleeping disorders associated with SCI, but you can adopt an appropriate remedy for each, based on how severe the situation is.

As a result, we have separated this section into two categories, namely:

  • SCI causes quadriplegia or paraplegia
  • SCI that doesn’t limit the patient from using their limbs but with discomfort and chronic pain

If you have severe SCI, you will likely experience sleeping issues like bedsores, inability to sleep on your wheelchair, spasms resulting from motor dysfunction, breathing problems, and restlessness when sleeping. These problems are likely to manifest fully at night, leading to poor sleep.

For example, interruptions of your breathing patterns, also called sleep apnea, are common in people living with severe cases of SCI. It is likely to result in reduced or poor sleep, high blood pressure, poor concentration, and sleepiness during the day.

Paraplegic or quadriplegic people can also have problems with regulating pressure, resulting from interruptions of spinal cord functions. This is mainly visible when the patient has severed nerves or severe injuries, interfering with the functionality of sweat glands.

Injured blood vessels also cease to respond to the signals sent to them from the brain to regulate heat around the injured parts of your body. It gets challenging for them to increase body heat when the surroundings are cold or reduce it during warm weather. Having cold feet but a hot head is a common occurrence that can distort your sleeping pattern.

Additionally, some people with quadriplegia have problems producing melatonin, the sleep hormone. This makes it challenging for them to fall and remain asleep.

People whose SCI is less severe may be in chronic pain that’s so terrible that it keeps them awake most nights. They are also at a high risk of a painful vicious cycle that exposes them to insomnia. 

The more severe their insomnia gets, the more pain they experience when awake at night, depriving them of a chance to sleep even when they are ready to nod off. This also interferes with their lives, making it hard for them to enjoy it since they alternate between severe pain and prolonged lack of sleep.

Sleep Advice for Individuals with SCI

If you are suffering from quadriplegia, you may need to acquire melatonin from a source outside your body. There are various supplements that a health practitioner may recommend. 

Patients with apnea can get a mouthpiece developed to lessen their breathing difficulties and promote better sleep. You can also seek advice on the best sleeping position for this condition. For instance, you are advised to avoid sleeping on your back since body tissues can block your throat and interfere with your breathing.

People with obesity or excess weight are also likely to suffer from OSA. In this case, they should create a weight loss plan by remaining active and watching their diet. Unmanaged reports of OSA can result in more severe health complications such as low oxygen levels within your body and heart diseases. Cancer is also a likely concern in this situation.

If you’re dealing with chronic back pains but your limbs are still fully functional, you can correct this using a special bed designed to make you comfortable in your sleep. It is adjustable and can be tuned to lift your legs, knees and keep your head raised. If you can’t get this bed, placing good quality pillows under your head, knees, and other parts of your limbs also work but may not yield the same quick results as an adjustable bed.

Additional remedies include pressing between your knees with a pillow and resting upright in an orthopaedic chair which may prompt you to sleep.

Cerebral Palsy

Patients who have severe cerebral palsy undergo a lot of pain that reduces their likelihood of getting quality sleep. The situation worsens when they cannot sleep in different positions since most are bound in a wheelchair and experiencing a certain degree of immobility. 

They are also prone to sores and lesions due to remaining seated for long periods. The pain and severity of these conditions are aggravated when they touch other surfaces like beddings and mattresses.

This condition causes children to experience sleep apnea, nightmares, insomnia, teeth grinding, and other problems that prevent quality sleep. Another issue is too much drooling which may result in choking and breathing problems.

Sleep Advice for people living with Cerebral Palsy

The main recommendation for people with cerebral palsy is to invest in a bed that can be adjusted to different positions. When sleeping, this bed should be stationed to leave the upper body elevated. 

Body pillows also come in handy when this type of bed is unavailable, as they can be positioned strategically to keep the patient’s upper body raised. In addition, cushions and blankets covered with foam blend well with a special mattress to minimise the sleeping impacts of this condition.

If the patient also has OSA, you can invest in a mouthpiece, snoring chin strap, a turning bed, and a CPAP machine.


People who have their limbs amputated are subjected to pain resulting in sleep loss. This can also be caused by inactivity, depression from the loss, insomnia, and edema. Phantom pain and injury can be aggravated by the stump’s edema, worsening the patient’s sleeping disorders.

Inadequate sleep has been connected with reducing serotonin production, which renders the body unable to combat pain. However, most amputees’ sleeping issues result from physical pain and emotional stress and trauma from the ordeal. The sleeping problems create a cycle that causes fatigue, stress, and discomfort for people with this disability.

Sleep Advice for Amputees

Limb loss comes with physical and emotional pain for the amputee. The condition interferes with their ability to sleep soundly or get a position in which they are comfortable sleeping. 

Serotonin stimulates you to feel more at ease and comfortable, strengthening your ability to respond to pain positively. Taking a snack is more helpful with serotonin production as most have the right ingredients for this purpose. If you struggle to sleep at night, experts recommend avoiding caffeinated drinking beverages before bedtime.

You can also adopt other techniques that boost relaxation, including breathing deeply, autogenic training, guided imagery, and biofeedback approaches. You’re also advised to avoid sleeping too much during the day as your body will be less fatigued to require rest at night.

It’s also essential to create a sleeping routine where you go to bed or wake up at a specific time. This triggers your body to adjust to a circadian rhythm, leading to automatic sleepiness and restfulness at night and morning, respectively. You must adhere to this schedule regardless of how sleepy you feel by the time you’re supposed to get up or when you don’t feel like you need to sleep when you should. This triggers your body to adjust to a circadian rhythm, leading to automatic sleepiness and restfulness at night and morning, respectively.

Sensory Disabilities and Sleep

People diagnosed with sensory disabilities exhibit needs that are different from those of other types of disabilities. They require adherence to a specific routine and signals that other people easily disregard or take for granted, such as the inability to sense daybreak and nighttime for blind people. Others with conditions like tinnitus may remain awake because they cannot control sounds.

Other sensory disorders like ADHD and hyperactivity can alter your sleeping function and disrupt the correct routine. While it is easier to correct sleeping distortion caused by physical disabilities using positioning devices, beds, and special mattresses, sensory disabilities lack a straightforward method of handling sleeping problems.

Sleep Problems Associated with Sensory Disabilities

Autism, ADHD, deafness, and blindness are the most common sensory disabilities, each with different problems.

For example, blind people may confuse their circadian rhythm since they can’t identify light signals. In contrast, those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience bedwetting issues, insomnia, night walking, and depression.

Other issues associated with sensory disabilities include:


The most common sleeping problem associated with total blindness is “non-24”, connected to the inability to perceive light and interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm. Sunsets and light changes trigger your sleep hormone, also called melatonin. The rising of the sun lowers the rate at which these hormones are produced, signalling your body to wake up.

Since they can’t know when the sun is rising or setting, blind people may encounter an unnatural sleep pattern or low quality sleep.

Sleep Advice for the Blind

People with blindness are advised to lower their use of caffeinated products. Alcohol can also disrupt the sleeping schedule, so you should avoid it.

You should also make the people around you aware of your blindness to accommodate you when planning events. Additionally, apply for jobs with a favourable routine away from the usual 9 to 5 schedule.

Blindness can cause depression, whose main side effect is sleeping disorientation. As a result, the treatment administered to curb this condition should include prescriptions for depression essential for controlling the non-24 problem.


The deaf, especially children, can develop anxiety and fear the darkness. They may also experience tinnitus, a condition that makes a high-pitched noise in your ears, preventing sound sleep.

As a result, tinnitus is the most significant sleep disruptor for deaf people, despite the assumption that their hearing impairment makes all their surroundings quiet and calm for quality sleep. 

Common insomnia is also a likelihood for the hearing impaired and must be addressed in equal measures.

Sleep Advice for the Deaf

If your sleeping disorder results from tinnitus, you should first prevent it. When exposed to high noise levels while working in the music industry, construction sites, airports, or milling stations, you should invest in noise-cancellation devices like earplugs.

However, if this condition turns into a permanent issue, you should consider giving up alcohol and limiting caffeine consumption. You should also start relaxation exercises before bedtime to pave the way for less problematic sleep.

Regular exercises work by inducing tiredness and relaxing your body, leading to faster sleep. Taking a break from electronic devices such as TV before going to sleep is also a recommended control measure for sleep deprivation caused by deafness.

Playing soothing music or sound in the bedroom helps tinnitus sufferers sleep more readily, but this is only effective when they have a hearing aid or are partially hearing impaired and can hear some sounds.

Most children are afraid and anxious when darkness sets in, but deaf children have a more challenging time coping. Their inaudibility can make them unable to sleep in a dark room, and it’s advisable to provide mild lighting to minimise these effects.

Another method of calming down anxious deaf children is through aromatherapy, which has a soothing impact. A combination of essential oils like chamomile or lavender and a potpourri sachet is also recommended for a calming effect inside the bed-chamber, inducing sleep faster.

Additional therapy such as the bright light and strict adherence to sleep time make it easier to achieve good sleep despite hearing impairment. You should also consider taking melatonin supplements to boost the low levels of the hormone produced by your body. It also maintains healthy circadian rhythms, leading to a healthy sleeping and rising pattern.


People diagnosed with autism are also exposed to sleeping disorders that make it hard to fall and remain asleep. These issues are more severe when connected to other behaviours like hyperactivity and repetitiveness, common in autistic people. There’s also a high likelihood for them to experience sleep apnea, extreme anxiety, attention deficit disorder, among others.

However, despite the possibility of sleeping soundly, people with autism rarely gain restorative sleep since 15% of this is spent in rapid eye movement (REM), unlike other people who spend 23% of their sleep time.

Sleep Advice for Autistic People

Autistic people can gain a healthier sleeping pattern through simple bedtime routines that must be followed each night. This calms down their mind, helping them sleep better. 

Sleeping and waking hours should be regular and strictly observed. You must also ensure that other factors like lighting and temperature are regulated to ensure maximum comfort for the autistic person.

A CPAP machine or snoring mouthpiece prevents interruptions resulting from sleep apnea. These apparatus help sufferers breathe well and sleep without problems.

Despite the positive changes brought by technological advancements in sleep aid device manufacturing, gadgets like Ambien are yet to be declared safe for use by autistic children. It may result in severe side effects such as tingling or burning sensation, lack of balance, constipation, and dizziness. If you choose to use sleeping aids, be prepared to deal with side effects and ensure you consult an expert beforehand.

You can also take melatonin since it is a natural supplement boosting the sleep hormone produced in your body in small amounts when you have a disability interfering with your sleep.

Sleep and Mental Illness

Mental health covers various conditions, from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to PTSD and schizophrenia. Most mental problems result in anxiety, depression among other effects that impact sleeping patterns.

Besides stimulating sleep disorders, these side effects make it hard to treat mental illnesses with a one-for-all approach. When they combine, your sleeping pattern gets badly distorted and may create a cycle that worsens the mental disability.

Sleep Problems Associated with Mental Illness

Most therapists recommend good sleep as a containment measure for mental illness. Inadequate sleep elevates the severity of mental conditions, making the symptoms worse. As is predictable, poor quality sleep or lack of it can trigger mental issues like schizophrenia and depression.

Despite this, mentally ill people are unlikely to fall asleep easily due to past traumas and other symptoms connected to disorders like PTSD. People with anxiety may experience panic attacks and nightmares due to deeply rooted traumatic encounters. Correcting such situations may need more than sticking to a strict sleeping schedule or taking sleeping pills.

People with severe depression also show signs of hyposomnia and hypersomnia. For the latter, they have difficulty falling asleep, worsening their mental health situation.

Bipolar Disorder

People with bipolar disorder experience depressive and manic episodes that alter their sleeping patterns erratically, sending them to and fro with hyposomnia and hypersomnia.  The extremes range from several days’ continuous sleep deprivation to severe depressive moments where one sleeps for days on end.

The sleep lost at the manic depressive episode negatively affects the following stages. People who have had this condition for a long time suffer from an imbalanced REM cycle, changing its duration and time. This worsens the condition because the lack of sleep interrupts the consistency of the rejuvenating effects of sleep waves.

Sleep Advice for Bipolar Disorder

Following the common occurrence of less sleep alternating with excess sleep, it’s advisable to start with sleep restriction and light therapy. These routines are recommended for depressive episodes, while relaxation therapy is helpful in the manic stage.

Before bedtime, you should avoid sedatives and stimulants such as caffeine. They harm your sleeping patterns and exhibit compounding impacts on bipolar disorder.

You’re also advised to exercise daily for body relaxation and induce more peaceful and restful sleep.


When suffering from schizophrenic episodes, the patient barely gets enough sleep. However, these episodes are different from bipolar disorder as they subside with time, and the patient resumes normality. 

Caregivers attending to these patients can predict an incoming attack once the patient’s sleep patterns start changing. Likewise, sleep-deprived people with schizophrenia are likely to experience an episode.

You should also monitor stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms as they are frequent in people with schizophrenia. You must address these disorders separately to correct the issue fully.

Sleep Advice for Schizophrenia

If a schizophrenic person needs sleep aids, they are advised to go for diphenhydramine or promethazine; both categorised under antihistamines. This group contains unique sedative levels that help the person sleep better. 

When opting for over-the-counter prescriptions or stronger barbiturates to act as sleep aids, you should prepare for severe side effects that can interfere with your sleep patterns and worsen them. Most of these aids require a prescription from the doctor and supervision while using them.

However, you’re advised to avoid sedatives and only use them sparingly when schizophrenic episodes alter your sleep patterns. You can go for healthier remedies like changing your lifestyle, strengthening your bedroom hygiene measures, exercising regularly, and developing a manageable and strict sleeping schedule.

For people experiencing problems falling and staying asleep, you should spend prolonged episodes of sleeplessness in a different room away from the bed. However, you must avoid contact with electronics by opting to read a book or listen to music. Ensure to switch off all computers and television screens, likely to stimulate your mind instead of tranquilising you. These gadgets worsen the situation by making it harder to get sleepy.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD causes hyperarousal to its sufferers, resulting from constantly feeling edgy as if they are in a war zone and ready for combat. This is common in people who have been in wars or witnessed traumatic occurrences, leading to sleeping difficulties. Even when such individuals fall asleep, they have trouble sleeping until the end.

These traumatic episodes run deep in one’s mental system and can cause nightmares, sleep talking and walking, and yelling episodes when the person is sleeping. This makes them fear going to sleep as they recount or get flashbacks of fearful occurrences from the past. 

Constant fear and anxiety are also why the sufferers sleep fewer hours or none. They could also be avoiding their subconscious reactions when they experience these episodes in their sleep, as they may hurt those near them.

Additional issues include anxiety and depression, which are common among PTSD patients. They can also cause sleep problems independently, worsening the situation when combined with PTSD sleep deprivation.

Sleep Advice for PTSD

If you have PTSD, your first and significant concern should be how to reduce stress. You should start by throwing away reading or visual materials with disturbing imagery that triggers your PTSD. You also need relaxation therapy and techniques to avoid any encounters that can stimulate your thoughts to relapse to the terrifying PTSD episodes. 

Physical exercise can also soothe and calm your system as you prepare to sleep. This is an easy way of bettering the situation and helping you avoid self-medication which is likely to result in erratic sleep patterns. 

However, you should exercise more than three hours before sleep to avoid activating an adrenaline rush as the main byproduct of vigorous activities. The excitement caused by adrenaline can prolong the period you remain awake, leading to minimal improvement of your sleep situation.

You should also build and maintain a concrete sleeping schedule and maintain hygienic living conditions in your sleeping area. You should also minimise the use of electronic devices to prevent overstimulation before going to bed, developing a good circadian rhythm for more fulfilling and restful sleep.


As highlighted, disabilities occur in different forms, exhibiting many side effects and sleeping disorders equally. It is frustrating for disabled people, and it may disappoint their caregivers. It is also problematic for people living with disabilities who have not yet been diagnosed but are already experiencing poor sleeping patterns. This makes it hard to treat it effectively due to the lack of relevant information.

While there may be difficulties in treating sleep disorders in people with disabilities, it’s not entirely impossible to gain a healthy sleeping routine. Likewise, as seen in this context, one disability does not always have to be connected with other sub-disorders. 

However, it’s obvious that most disabilities, especially mental illnesses, are synchronised with other smaller disorders that must be controlled or eliminated to ease the containment of the major disorder. These symptoms are manageable, but they may take longer to eliminate due to the high likelihood of relapsed episodes.

Exercising and changing your lifestyle is the first step of initiating healthy sleeping routines, especially when you have a disability. You should also maintain a high level of hygiene and change parameters like temperature in your room to gain better sleep.

Adhering to these measures will promote a healthier, happier, and more enjoyable life since a well-rested body is more productive.

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