• Brachial Girl

10 Ways to Sleep with a Brachial Plexus Injury

After my accident, like everybody with brachial plexus injuries, I was forced to sleep on my back.

I HATED it so much.

I never slept at night. I would sleep 2 hours here and 2 hours there, in bed, on the couch ... anywhere and from pure exhaustion.

I was so exhausted and angry I started trying everything.

I spent hours every day experimenting, trying to manoevre my arm around, using pillows, in the sling, out of the sling, with the wrist brace, without the wrist brace, and even getting someone to help me get on my belly on the floor (which I did regularly to stretch my tummy muscles because they got so much use helping me get up off beds and couches etc), stick a pillow under my head so I could have a nap without sleeping on my back!

Then one day, I was healed enough I guess, and I found the right position.

I think you the key is to grit your teeth against the pain while you get in position, then wiggle around till you find a spot where it doesn't hurt as much. Even just doing that for a little while everyday, will get your sensitive skin, and sore muscles and nerves used to it over time, till one day, you will be able to sleep on your side.

When I laid on my back, I had 3 variations.

1. On the couch, on my back, with a couple of pillows behind my head (on the arm of the couch), positioned so I was slightly sitting up, with my BPI side against the high back of the couch, with several cushions/pillows piled up and squashed and shaped under my arm and between me and the back of the couch, so that my BPI arm was at a 45° angle, to help with swelling and comfort. I would spend days on the couch like that. I could watch TV and sleep when I needed to, just taking toilet, food and passive arm exercise breaks. That's how I rolled for a couple of months.

2. Flat on my back on the left of my husband , with a pillow or rolled up towel (minimising space between us so my husband could fit in the bed!) on my BPI side, my arm in an "L" shape, or in a sling in the early days, and upper arm and elbow on the pillow/s, with my forearm and hand across my chest and a thin soft pillow on my chest, under my BPI arm.

3. Flat on my back, with 3 thin pillows or rolled up towels going up in steps as they went along my body towards the end of the bed with another thin pillow on top to create a ramp, so that my BPI arm was on an angle to help with the swelling. I would tuck the top pillow up in my arm pit.

I remember one night when I was on the couch in position 1. above, and I was stretching my pec muscle ...

4. I used my good hand to pull my BPI arm up over my head, elbow bent, stretching the shoulder muscles to help with the shoulder joint's range of motion, and because I had heaps of pillows behind my head, my BPI forearm sat on my head, resting on a pillow. I had to hold it there, but after a while, the muscle was stretched a bit so my arm actually sat there. I put my good arm in the same position, and grasped my BPI hand. I stayed there stretching, and the next thing I knew I was being woken up for dinner! My husband said I'd been asleep like that for 2 hours. So after that, and while I was still sleeping on the couch, I would have naps in that position. It was a nice change, and my pec muscles really started loosening up and my shoulder range of motion improved as a result!

I was sick of having my BPI arm and pillows like a barrier between me and my husband, and my swelling was almost under control, so I experimented and managed to change sides of the bed!

5. On the right side of my husband, on my back, with 2 and eventually 1 pillow, cushion or rolled up towel under my forearm and hand. I moved in towards the middle of the bed to minimise the chance of my arm falling off the side of bed, which did happen a few times!

I was so happy with this new arrangement. It meant my husband and I could cuddle, hold hands and be almost back to normal with our sleeping arrangements. It was also great news for my husband, because he had at first been sleeping on the couch, or not sleeping at all for fear I'd need him during the night, and then being in the bed with me, but not sleeping properly because he was worried about banging my arm in his sleep.

Sleeping on my good side -

The first time I slept on my side, was about 2 1/2 months post accident.

6. I slept on my good side, with my knees up a little bit, and my BPI arm on top of my side, with a thin pillow between my arm and body.

This worked for me. It meant I could change between 2 positions. I was THRILLED the first time I woke up from sleeping a full night on my side. It was the best sleep ever!

I also discovered these ones -

7. I laid on my good side, with a really thick pillow (or use a couple to get the right height) at a 90°, so my pillows formed a "L" shape. I pulled my BPI arm over and up so it was in an "L" shape and at a right angle to my body, forearm resting kind of palm down. I had to tilt my head up a bit, so my cheek was against the second pillow. It took practice, and short sleeps/naps till I found the exact positioning.

8. On my good side, but with 1 or both knees at a right angle to my body, and my BPI arm on top of my side, following the curve of my body, with hand and forearm on my thigh (I'm short so may differ slightly for taller people).

It wasn't until after my nerve transfers that I eventually slept on my BPI side and found new variations on my good side.

Sleeping on my BPI side -

So I think it was about 3 months after my transfer surgery that I rolled onto my bad side, half asleep in the middle of the night and then jolted with some pain. But I realised the potential and fiddled around with it.

9. I laid on my bad side with my BPI shoulder slightly curved, pillow under my head but on top of the BPI arm, my BPI arm bent and forearm going straight up and hand tucked under my good arm, and my good arm hugging my body with good hand sort of cupping my BPI shoulder. So basically on my BPI side with my arms crossed over my chest, hand in armpits hehehe.

10. Same as above but on my good side. Arms crossed over my chest like a vampire, hands in armpits or cupping the shoulders.

So there you go! I really hope you can take my sleeping positions, and tweak them so that you can get a more confortable sleep!

Test things out, tie your BPI arm to your other arm, to the bed head, tie it sitting on your good side, with stockings so that the stockings connect your BPI upper arm, stocking runs behind your back and ties onto your good arm, so that your subluxation doesn't cause your shoulder to fall on your face. Hehehe!

Having a comfortable good nights sleep is so very important! It helps your body heal, helps you regain energy, clears your mind, relaxes you, and helps you cope with the extra energy we use dealing with one arm all day.

Do everything you can, using whatever you can, to get yourself into sleeping positions that you like.

Don't give up!

💞 Brachial Girl

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