Sleep Products for People with Disabilities

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A disability impacts your ability to sleep throughout the night, and may cause sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, excessive daytime drowsiness, or delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS).

Many of the sleep issues described below exist bi-directionally with the disability, meaning that each influences the other. The good news is that treatment of one often results in relief for the other, and vice versa.

Whether you have a disability yourself, or are a caregiver for a disabled person, hopefully this guide will help you understand how it impacts your sleep, and what you can do to get a better night’s sleep.

Intellectual Disabilities and Sleep

Intellectual disabilities are often diagnosed before age 18. People with intellectual disabilities have below average intelligence, difficulty learning and processing information, and trouble communicating with others. Examples of intellectual disabilities include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADHD)
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
  • Fragile X syndrome

Sleep Problems Associated with Intellectual Disabilities

Up to 80% of children with intellectual disabilities have sleep disorders, the most common being disrupted sleep during the night and difficulty falling asleep, both of which result in excessive daytime drowsiness. Sleep deprivation worsens our memory and ability to process information, which intellectually disabled people already have a hard time with. The intellectually disabled may express their fatigue through mood swings, or acting out by screaming or otherwise problematic behaviors.

Down syndrome is highly correlated with sleep apnea. People with Down syndrome tend to have low-set cheekbones, a smaller jaw, and narrow throat and nasal passages. They may also have other physical features that block their already thinner nasal passage, such as a larger tongue or tonsils. Their disability makes physical activity challenging, so they’re more likely to develop obesity, another major cause of sleep apnea. It is estimated between a third to over half of people with Down syndrome also have sleep apnea. Learn more about sleep apnea and Down syndrome from the National Down Syndrome Society.

Urinary incontinence (bedwetting) during sleep is also common among people with Down syndrome.

People with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) have difficulty focusing and managing their thoughts. The symptoms of ADHD make it difficult to settle down and fall asleep, giving them insomnia. That lack of sleep can worsen symptoms. When adults lose sleep, they tend to be more fatigued. Children, on the other hand, may be more irritable and hyperactive, only worsened by ADHD.

A study found that children with ADHD are more than twice as likely to have sleep apnea. ADHD sufferers are also more prone to have restless legs syndrome. RLS, combined with sleep apnea, may cause them to wake up during the night, so the sleep they do get is less restful.

Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are also likely to suffer from insomnia. They’re overly sensitive and easily stimulated by their environment, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep.

Mattresses & Sleep Accessories for Intellectual Disabilities

Here is an overview of bedding, mattress, and sleep activities that can help provide more restful sleep for people living with intellectual disabilities. These make sleep more comfortable to help reduce the onset of insomnia.

Sleep ProductHow It Helps
Waterproof mattressesFor bedwetters with Down syndrome: Waterproof mattresses are designed from durable, easily cleanable materials like polyurethane that can handle regular incontinence and nighttime bedwetting. As long as they are cleaned regularly, they will not stain or develop a smell either. Beyond the mattress itself, you can also buy waterproof mattress covers, duvets, and pillowcases.
Firm to very firm mattressesFor obese people with Down syndrome: The firmer the mattress, the better it can provide support for people weighing 230 pounds or more. 
White noise machinesFor reducing insomnia caused by Down syndrome, ADHD, and FASD: White noise machines provide a steady, soothing static sound that minimizes the noise from other items in the room that may distract people with intellectual disabilities, such as fans, clocks, or electronics. 
Anti-snoring mouthpieces, chinstraps, pillows, and nasal plugsFor sleep apnea associated with Down syndrome, ADHD, and FASD: These devices fit between the teeth to reduce snoring during the night and symptoms of sleep apnea.
Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machinesFor sleep apnea associated with Down syndrome, ADHD, and FASD: These machines include a mask that goes over the face to provide a steady flow of air during the night. These are best for extreme cases of sleep apnea.

Sleep Advice for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities

In addition to the above sleep products, the intellectually disabled may find it easier to sleep by following these tips.

Reinforcing good sleep behavior with rewards has proven to be effective for children with Down syndrome. This could be something as simple as praise or a hug, to a small token like a sticker. To avoid acting out, researchers recommend reassuring the child that if they did not get the reward one time, they can be successful the next time.

Many children are told to “go to their room” when they get in trouble. This is a bad practice for parents of children with intellectual disabilities, as it may cause them to view the bedroom negatively and develop anxiety about going to sleep.

ADHD sufferers may find cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps them manage their thoughts better before going to bed, so they can relax and minimize anxiety. Meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques may also prove helpful. Not keeping a clock in the bedroom can also reduce feelings of anxiety over not falling asleep quickly enough.

All people can benefit from good sleep hygiene, but following a strict bedtime ritual can be extremely beneficial for improving sleep quality in people with intellectual disabilities, as one Netherlands study found. Avoid liquids, heavy meals, and stimulants before bed. Start to turn off the lights and stimulating electronics as bedtime nears. Do the same activities before bed in the same order every night. Finally, go to sleep with the lights off, the air cool, and the white noise machine on.

Additional Online Resources:

  • The National Resource on ADHD provides further information on the sleep problems associated with ADHD.
  • Our Tuck resource on Children and Insomnia goes into detail about the causes of childhood insomnia, and tips for working with your pediatrician.

Physical Disabilities and Sleep

Physical disabilities describe conditions where a person’s motor functions and physical abilities are affected. Examples of physical disabilities include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Polio
  • Arthritis
  • Amputation

Sleep Problems Associated with Physical Disabilities

The physical pain associated with many physical disabilities makes it challenging for affected individuals to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Once they do fall asleep, they often wake up from pain. Your body changes positions during the night to reduce pressure on various parts of your body. People with physical disabilities either have difficulty or are completely unable to do this themselves.

For example, many people with cerebral palsy use a wheelchair, so they may develop skin ulcers or skin sensitivity which is aggravated when it gets rubbed against a surface (such as a mattress) for a sustained period of time.

One quarter to just under one half of children with cerebral palsy have sleep issues, including insomnia, sleep apnea, teeth grinding, nightmares or talking in their sleep. Drooling is a prevalent issue for children with cerebral palsy, and can disturb sleep by making it difficult to breathe and excessive saliva causes a choking issue. The gastro-intestinal issues commonly associated with cerebral palsy also make sleep more uncomfortable. Other side effects of cerebral palsy are noise sensitivity, which can disrupt sleep, and seizures, which can be triggered by lack of sleep.

The biggest issue cerebral palsy sufferers have when it comes to sleep is overall general body pain and related muscle spasms and involuntary movement. Their inability to move themselves during the night can worsen these issues and make sleep more unattainable.

Daytime drowsiness and sleep apnea are common sleep issues for those with muscular dystrophy.

Melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle, and the antidiuretic hormone prevents urination during the night. People with spinal cord injuries don’t produce the proper amounts of these, so they have trouble falling asleep and are prone to bed-wetting.

Assistive Bedding Devices, Mattresses, and Sleep Accessories for Physical Disabilities

Sleep ProductHow It Helps
Adjustable beds/Chair bedsFor physically disabled individuals who need to elevate part of their body to increase circulation and comfort: Adjustable bed frames allow the sleeper to easily adjust via remote control the sleeping position and angle of the bed at the top or bottom of the bed. A chair bed is a bed and a recliner combined in one, making them ideal for day use.
Turning bedsFor physically disabled people who cannot move themselves in bed to transition between sleep positions and avoid circulatory issues: Turning beds allow the sleeper to rotate the mattress to accommodate different sleeping positions.
Low-profile bedsFor physically disabled people who have trouble getting in and out of bed, or who may roll or fall out of bed due to their disability: Low-profile beds are usually 10 inches tall or less. They’re designed low to the ground to prevent injury and provide ease of access.
Bed rails & bed rail padsFor physically disabled people who need a barrier to prevent them from falling out of bed and incurring further injury: Bed rails are attached to the side of the mattress or bed frame and span the length of the bed. Bed rail pads can be attached to provide a more comfortable surface.
Grab handlesFor physically disabled people who need assistance getting in and out of bed, changing position from upright to horizontal in bed, or transitioning into a wheelchair: Grab handles can be attached to the bed or a nearby wall. Free-standing options can be placed by the side of the bed.
Hand blocksFor bedwetters who use a bedpan: Hand blocks are small weighted handles that can be attached to both sides of the headboard or bed frame, allowing the sleeper to push down on both in order to lift themselves up.
Rope laddersFor physically disabled individuals who need help pulling themselves up: Attached to one end of the bed, these ladders allow individuals to gradually pull themselves up, rung by rung.
Bed stepsFor physically disabled individuals with joint pain and the elderly: If a low-profile bed is not an option, bed steps provide an alternative.
Headboard padsFor physically disabled individuals who spend a lot of time sitting up in bed: These cushions are placed against the headboard to prevent head or neck injuries.
Floor padsFor physically disabled individuals at risk of falling out of bed, or when bed rails aren’t available: These cushions are placed around the floor of the bed to provide cushioning in the event of a fall.
Air mattressesFor physically disabled individuals who need assistance improving circulation and getting relief from bed sores: These are different than a typical airbed, but function similarly. With these you can pump air to different parts of the bed, whereas an airbed maintains an even amount of air.
Memory foam mattressesFor physically disabled individuals who want relief from back and joint pain: These mattresses are designed to contour to the body and provide pressure point relief.
Mattress elevatorsFor physically disabled individuals who need to elevate part of their body to increase circulation and comfort: A more affordable alternative to an adjustable bed, these adjustable metal frames fit underneath the foot or head of the mattress and allow the sleeper to adjust the angle of the bed.
Neck pillowsFor physically disabled individuals with spinal cord or joint injuries: These pillows are typically constructed from memory foam and provide additional support for the head.
Pillow elevatorsFor physically disabled individuals who need to elevate their neck, head, or knees to improve circulation and comfort: These pillow frames function similarly to mattress elevators to adjust the angle of the pillow.
Waterproof mattressesFor bedwetters with spinal cord injuries: Waterproof mattresses are designed from durable, easily cleanable materials like polyurethane that can handle regular incontinence and nighttime bedwetting. As long as they are cleaned regularly, they will not stain or develop a smell either. Beyond the mattress itself, you can also buy waterproof mattress covers, duvets, and pillowcases.
Firm to very firm mattressesFor obese people with physical disabilities: The firmer the mattress, the better it can provide support for people weighing 230 pounds or more. Having better support at night can help obese people get more restful sleep.
Anti-snoring mouthpieces, chinstraps, pillows, and nasal plugsFor sleep apnea associated with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy: These devices fit between the teeth to reduce snoring during the night and symptoms of sleep apnea.
Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machinesFor sleep apnea associated with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy: These machines include a mask that goes over the face to provide a steady flow of air during the night. These are best for extreme cases of sleep apnea.

Sleep Advice for Individuals with Physical Disabilities

In addition to using the assistive sleep accessories and mattresses above, those with a physical disability may find the following tips useful.

People with a prosthetic limb should be careful with how they use pillows. If the amputation is below the knee, do not cushion under the knee with a blanket or pillow as it can cause a contracture. If the amputation is above the knee, avoid resting your limbs on pillows (it can misalign your hips), or between your legs as it can lengthen one thigh and shorten the other (making it easier to lose your balance while walking). It’s also recommended to shower before bed rather than when they wake up, as the warmth of the water can cause swelling that makes it difficult to fit the prosthesis in the morning.

Individuals with cerebral palsy should use an adjustable bed or mattress elevator to tilt the bed up when sleeping. A body pillow can help relieve back and muscle pain when placed between the knees or around the torso.

Additional Online Resources:

  • The Cerebral Palsy Alliance has information on sleep positioning systems which keep the body in a comfortable position throughout the night through the use of cushions, adjustable beds, and foam contouring.
  • The Arthritis Foundation provides tips for getting better sleep with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Tuck’s in-depth guide to sleep apnea shares information on the causes and severity of different types of sleep apnea, and treatment for each.

Sensory Disabilities and Sleep

Sensory disabilities describe disabilities that affect the senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and/or touch. Examples of sensory disabilities include:

  • Blindness or poor vision
  • Deafness or hearing loss
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Sensory processing disorder

Sleep Problems Associated with Sensory Disabilities

Totally blind people may have Non-24 sleep disorder. They have no light perception, and end up out of sync with their circadian clock as a result. They have difficulty falling asleep at normal times, and their sleep-wake cycle can change on a daily basis by varying degrees.

People may be born deaf or experience hearing loss as they age or from a life event. People with hearing problems may suffer from tinnitus, a ringing in the ear that makes it difficult to fall asleep. Sleep apnea has also been linked to hearing loss.

It’s estimated that 40% to 80% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) suffer from sleep problems, most commonly insomnia and waking up multiple times during the night. Anxiety and depression, often associated with ASD, also impact sleep. Children with autism spectrum disorders are also prone to bedwetting, and snoring and sleep apnea.

Often tied to autism spectrum disorders, people with sensory processing disorder experience higher sensitivity and are easily stimulated by things in their environment, to the extent that sound, light, or touch can be painful. You can imagine how this can impact sleep.

Mattresses, Bedding, & Sleep Accessories for Sensory Disabilities

Sleep ProductHow It Helps
Low-profile bedsFor sensory disabled children, who may be prone to fall out of bed from restless sleep: Low-profile beds are usually 10 inches tall or less. They’re designed low to the ground to prevent injury and provide ease of access.
Bed rails & bed rail padsFor autistic children who may experience a lot of movement during sleep: Bed rails are attached to the side of the mattress or bed frame and span the length of the bed. Bed rail pads can be attached to provide a more comfortable surface.
Heavier, high-quality mattressesFor autistic children who may be prone to jumping up and down on the bed, and need a mattress to support the weight A heavier mattress will move less and a high-quality mattress will be able to sustain repeated activity on the bed.
White noise machinesFor reducing insomnia caused by autism spectrum disorders or blindness: White noise machines provide a steady, soothing static sound that minimizes the noise from other items in the room that may stimulate people with sensory disabilities, such as fans, clocks, or electronics.
Waterproof mattressesFor bedwetters with autism spectrum disorders: Waterproof mattresses are designed from durable, easily cleanable materials like polyurethane that can handle regular incontinence and nighttime bedwetting. As long as they are cleaned regularly, they will not stain or develop a smell either. Beyond the mattress itself, you can also buy waterproof mattress covers, duvets, and pillowcases.
Anti-snoring mouthpieces, chinstraps, pillows, and nasal plugsFor sleep apnea associated with autism spectrum disorders or hearing loss: These devices fit between the teeth to reduce snoring during the night and symptoms of sleep apnea.
Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machinesFor sleep apnea associated with autism spectrum disorders or hearing loss: These machines include a mask that goes over the face to provide a steady flow of air during the night. These are best for extreme cases of sleep apnea.
Weighted blanketsFor reducing restless leg syndrome and insomnia caused by sensory disabilities: Weighted blankets have a soothing effect. The general rule of thumb is to choose a blanket that weighs 10% of your total body weight and add 1 pound to that.


Sleep Advice for Individuals with Sensory Disabilities

In addition to using the assistive sleep products described above, individuals with sensory disabilities may also find the following tips helpful:

For deaf children, sleep can be a scarier place. Many children are afraid of the dark, and losing an additional sense can lead to a sense of overwhelm for deaf children. Try leaving a light on in the hall or using friendly glow-in-the dark stickers or nightlights.

Along the same lines, children with sensory disabilities are more likely to be overstimulated or fearful of their bedroom. Create a calmer environment more conducive to sleep by:

  • Painting the bedroom a dark color
  • Minimizing light in the room and using blackout shades
  • Using an air diffuser or sachet with a pleasant, gentle scent
  • Having furry, velvety stuffed animals or a favorite blanket in the bed (no rattle toys, but something that feels good to squeeze and pet)
  • Creating a cocoon out of blankets and pillows, or using a sleeping bag for a similar effect
  • Using a bed tent as a visual cue that it’s time to sleep

You may also consider using a dietary supplement like melatonin as a sleep aid, or bright-light therapy, where you expose your child to bright light during the morning to help them wake up.

To induce sleep and establish a regular sleep/wake schedule, parents of autistic children should set a predictable and short bedtime routine of 20-30 minutes. The bedtime routine should include relaxing activities and should avoid stimulation from electronics or high-energy activities.

Additional Online Resources:

Sleep and Mental Illness

Mental illness describes conditions that affect a person’s life and relationships. Examples of mental illness include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Sleep Problems Associated with Mental Illness

Sleep provides many benefits, one of which is regulating your mood and emotional state. Lack of quality sleep makes one more emotionally vulnerable and reactive, which worsens if someone is already living with mental health disorder. To illustrate just how powerful sleep deprivation can be, a person who has been deprived of sleep for 24 hours may demonstrate symptoms similar to schizophrenia.

Anxiety and depression go hand in hand with difficulty falling and staying asleep. Anxiety may cause nightmares or panic attacks, which are more likely to happen at night. Sleep deprivation itself increases anxiety, contributing to even more sleep loss.

Nearly 90% of people with extreme depression also have insomnia, and many also experience hypersomnia.

People with bipolar disorder also have disturbed sleep and irregular sleeping patterns that correlate to manic or depressive episodes. During a manic period, a person with bipolar disorder may not sleep at all for days at time. Then, when they enter the depressive stage, they may spend days asleep or in bed. This sleep loss can aggravate either stage of the illness. Living with the symptoms of bipolar disorder causes changes to REM sleep over time, altering when it happens and for long.

During an episode, people with schizophrenia get very little sleep. Their sleep tends to improve between episodes, but they rarely get the normal required amount of deep sleep on a regular basis.

One of the most reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is difficulty falling or staying asleep. PTSD sufferers often wake up during the night from nightmares or talking or yelling during their sleep. The nature of PTSD can cause sufferers to start fearing the act of falling asleep itself, whether out of fear they’ll relive a nightmare that reminds them of a traumatic event, or that they’ll act out a nightmare and hurt either themselves or a sleeping partner.

Another common symptom of PTSD is hyperarousal. Being constantly on edge makes it difficult to relax enough to fall asleep, especially if being asleep is viewed as vulnerability.

Mattresses & Sleep Accessories for Mental Illness

Sleep ProductHow It Helps
Bed rails & bed rail padsFor individuals with PTSD or schizophrenia who may act out nightmares and hurt themselves while asleep: Bed rails are attached to the side of the mattress or bed frame and span the length of the bed. Bed rail pads can be attached to provide a more comfortable surface.
Headboard padsFor individuals with PTSD or schizophrenia who may act out nightmares and hurt themselves while asleep: These cushions are placed against the headboard to prevent head or neck injuries.
Floor padsFor individuals with PTSD or schizophrenia at risk of falling out of bed from a nightmare: These cushions are placed around the floor of the bed to provide cushioning in the event of a fall.
Memory foam mattressesFor individuals with PTSD who also have back or joint injury from combat: Memory foam mattresses are designed to contour to the body and provide pressure point relief.
Neck pillowsFor individuals with PTSD who have neck or joint injuries from combat: These pillows are typically constructed from memory foam and provide additional support for the head.
White noise machinesFor reducing insomnia caused by mental illness: White noise machines provide a steady, soothing static sound that minimizes the noise from other items in the room that may stimulate people with sensory disabilities, such as fans, clocks, or electronics.
Sleep maskFor reducing insomnia caused by mental illness: Sleep masks are attached via an elastic strap or ribbon and fit over the eyes to reduce light and encourage a relaxed state. Some may contain cooling gel.


Sleep Advice for Individuals with Mental Illness

In addition to using the bedding and sleep products above, those living with mental illness may find relief from employing relaxation techniques before bed, such as imagining a peaceful scene.

Light therapy or sleep restriction therapy can assist depressed individuals with hypersomnia.

Individuals with mental illness are often taking prescription drugs to help manage the symptoms.

To get a better night’s sleep, those living with mental health disorders should follow good sleep hygiene, and avoid stimulants which may interact negatively with prescription drugs, such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and other stimulants.

Additional Online Resources:

Sleep and Neurological Disabilities

Neurological disabilities are caused by damage to the nervous system, whether from birth or from a trauma such as a head injury. Examples of neurological disabilities include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Strokes or migraines

Sleep Problems Associated with Neurological Disabilities

Neurological disorders are linked to disrupted sleep. As with many disabilities, people with neurological conditions often take a variety of drugs which also affect sleep.

People with epilepsy are twice as likely to have insomnia as the “normal” population. 25% of people with epilepsy suffer primarily from night-time seizures, resulting in disrupted sleep. Worse, sleep deprivation itself can contribute to seizures. Epileptics have less restful sleep overall, because the brain wave disruptions that cause seizures interfere with REM sleep. Fortunately, antiseizure medication tend to fix these issues over time.

Lack of sleep can also cause headaches, which is problematic for people who already suffer regularly from migraines or strokes. Some migraines can be so painful that they cause a person to wake, resulting in insomnia and disrupted sleep.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affect sleep patterns to different extents depending on the stage of the disease. At the onset of the disease, people sleep more than usual or get disoriented upon waking up. This behavior intensifies as the disease progresses, to the point where individuals sleep off and on throughout the day and night as their circadian rhythm becomes more disrupted. Lack of quality sleep increases acting out among dementia sufferers.

Sundowning syndrome describes the unique tendency of Alzheimer’s sufferers to be more anxious, confused, or otherwise upset the later it gets in the day (when the sun goes down). Bedwetting from incontinence is another common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.

People living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) may also suffer from insomnia (sometimes triggered by tremors of PD), disrupted sleep, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, bedwetting, nightmares induced by levodopa medication, and daytime drowsiness. On average, individuals with Parkinson’s disease may get as low as 5 hours of sleep per night. By contrast, the recommended average for adults is 7 to 8 hours.

Sleep apnea affects up to 20% of Parkinson’s sufferers, and insomnia accounts for 30%. The symptoms of PD can include anxiety and depression, which are closely linked with insomnia, as well as rigidity, which makes it difficult to move comfortably in bed.

Almost a third of people with Parkinson’s disease also have REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), although it’s less common in women than men. When people with RBD are asleep, their muscles don’t relax during REM (dream) sleep like they’re supposed to, so they’re at risk of acting out violent dreams by kicking, punching, or running around.

One of the main symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) is fatigue, caused by disrupted sleep and insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and disordered breathing while sleeping. Worse, the medication used to treat MS may worsen any of these symptoms. In turn, lack of sleep can worsen other symptoms of MS.

Mattresses, Pillows, & Assistive Bedding Devices for Neurological Disabilities

Sleep ProductHow It Helps
Turning bedsFor individuals with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis who cannot move themselves in bed to transition between sleep positions and avoid circulatory issues: Turning beds allow the sleeper to rotate the mattress to accommodate different sleeping positions.
Low-profile bedsFor individuals with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, REM sleep behavior disorder, or multiple sclerosis who have trouble getting in and out of bed, or who may roll or fall out of bed when acting out nightmares: Low-profile beds are usually 10 inches tall or less. They’re designed low to the ground to prevent injury and provide ease of access.
Bed rails & bed rail padsFor individuals with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, REM sleep behavior disorder, or multiple sclerosis who need a barrier to prevent them from falling out of bed and incurring further injury: Bed rails are attached to the side of the mattress or bed frame and span the length of the bed. Bed rail pads can be attached to provide a more comfortable surface.
Grab handlesFor individuals with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, REM sleep behavior disorder, or multiple sclerosis who need assistance getting in and out of bed, or changing position from upright to horizontal in bed: Grab handles can be attached to the bed or a nearby wall. Free-standing options can be placed by the side of the bed.
Hand blocksFor individuals with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease who use a bedpan to avoid wetting the bed: Hand blocks are small weighted handles that can be attached to both sides of the headboard or bed frame, allowing the sleeper to push down on both in order to lift themselves up.
Rope laddersFor individuals with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis who need help pulling themselves up: Attached to one end of the bed, these ladders allow individuals to gradually pull themselves up, rung by rung.
Floor padsFor individuals with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis who are at risk of falling out of bed, or when bed rails aren’t available: These cushions are placed around the floor of the bed to provide cushioning in the event of a fall.
Neck pillowsFor individuals with epilepsy or REM sleep behavior disorder who need to keep the neck stabilized while acting out nightmares: These pillows are typically constructed from memory foam and provide additional support for the head.
Waterproof mattressesFor incontinent individuals with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s: Waterproof mattresses are designed from durable, easily cleanable materials like polyurethane that can handle regular incontinence and nighttime bedwetting. As long as they are cleaned regularly, they will not stain or develop a smell either. Beyond the mattress itself, you can also buy waterproof mattress covers, duvets, and pillowcases.
Anti-snoring mouthpieces, chinstraps, pillows, and nasal plugsFor sleep apnea associated with Parkinson’s: These devices fit between the teeth to reduce snoring during the night and symptoms of sleep apnea.
Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machinesFor sleep apnea associated with Parkinson’s: These machines include a mask that goes over the face to provide a steady flow of air during the night. These are best for extreme cases of sleep apnea.
Weighted blanketsFor reducing restless leg syndrome and insomnia caused by Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis: Weighted blankets have a soothing effect. The general rule of thumb is to choose a blanket that weighs 10% of your total body weight and add 1 pound to that.
White noise machinesFor reducing insomnia caused by neurological disabilities: White noise machines provide a steady, soothing static sound that minimizes the noise from other items in the room that may stimulate people with sensory disabilities, such as fans, clocks, or electronics.

Sleep Resources for Individuals with Neurological Disabilities

In addition to using the sleep products and assistive bedding devices listed above, individuals with neurological disabilities may find the following tips useful.

Individuals with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease can reduce bedwetting by avoiding liquids a few hours before bed, and using the bathroom immediately before going to sleep. They may also place a chamber pot by the bed so they don’t get injured going to the bathroom at night.

To reduce anxiety caused by sundowning syndrome, Alzheimer’s caregivers can keep the house well lit at night and use night lights in the bedroom.

To reduce friction and ease movement, individuals with Parkinson’s can opt for satin bedding and pajamas.

All individuals with neurological disabilities can benefit from following good sleep hygiene habits and establishing a bedtime routine. Avoid napping for more than 30 minutes. Spend time outside in natural sunlight during the day to sync your circadian rhythm. Treat your bed and bedroom as something you use exclusively for sleep.

Additional Online Resources:

  • The Alzheimer’s Association offers guidance for managing sundowner’s syndrome, and also has a 24/7 helpline (800) 272-3900 and support group directory for caregivers.
  • The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation lists medications that may help reduce symptoms of PD that cause sleep issues.

Tuck reviews other sleep disorders correlated with headaches and how they impact sleep quality.

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