Purr Therapy and sleep

One common problem brain injury survivors share is change in sleep patterns.   Some survivors find their circadian rhythm changed and suffer from insomnia.  Others sleep more.   The night of the accident set the scene for my problem.  I did not sleep at all that night.  I managed to nap briefly, off and on, during the following day.  However, I did not sleep until around 3 am the following day.  Then, I slept hard, waking about 1pm.  Since my accident, I struggle with falling asleep.  For months, my brain was awake, even when tired, until 2 am at the earliest.  I’d sleep for 9 or 1o hours.   My headaches and fatigue required daily naps.  For proper sleep hygiene, napping during the day is usually discouraged.  However, in the recovery of a brain injury survivor, sleep is vital.   Sleep rejuvenate the body and mind.  As a marathon runner, I learned that the majority of healing of the micro-tearing of muscles caused by long runs is accomplished in sleep.  It is also when our bodies grow muscles and repair damages.  With head injury, sleep is part of healing and reconnecting neurons.  Over the months, my naps during the day shortened.  However, I still have difficulty falling asleep.  Generally, I am able to get into a light sleep around midnight.  However, if anything wakes me, I remain up for several hours.

My sleep rhythm gradually improved.  However, I recently started waking earlier.   Last month, Brigid became fascinated with my curtains.  Due to my rental lease, I am not allowed to put screws or nails in the walls.  The curtains were hung with a spring-loaded rod.  Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of Brigid resulted in the rod falling.  I can’t get the curtains hung again.  The rod keeps falling.  All that protects me from the morning sun is the blinds.  Brigid enjoys an early morning game of fetch.  I often am stirred from sleep by her using my chest or stomach as a spring-board.  She then drops her favorite foil ball on me and stares.  I toss the ball, she springs into action, retrieving it.  Usually, I doze off during the game, much to her disgust.  It has been hard sleeping lately.  I average about 5-6 hours of “good sleep” a night.  It isn’t enough.  I have been getting more migraines lately.   I require longer naps again.  It is a frustrating cycle.  Perhaps getting the curtains hung again will help.  Daylight Savings is also a problem.  The earlier time change really kicked my system for several weeks.

Today was a busy and exhausting day.  I woke about 8 am and could not fall back to sleep.  I decided to get an early start and went for a short run.  It was a rough day.  My body felt tired and unresponsive.  My pace was even slower than usual.  I really just wanted to pack it in for the day.  The one drawback, or advantage, of running routes on roads instead of the track is that I can’t quit.  Even if I stopped running, I still have to get back home.   Walking takes longer and on a breezy, cool morning, it makes for a cold journey.  I soldiered on.   I completed my run, then remembered I had physical therapy at 10 due to a schedule change.  Usually, I have PT on Thursday.  Off I go.  By the time I completed the regime, my brain was blown.  I went home and climbed into bed.

Brigid sensed something was wrong.  Usually, I get “purr therapy” for several minutes when I first get into bed.  Brigid sits on my chest and purrs hard.  I pet her and she head butts, purrs, and snuggles.  Sometimes, she will either lie down on my chest or next to my head, using my shoulder as a pillow.  She cuddled for several minutes but does not remain snuggled for the nap.  She gets too warm and moves down to the bottom of my bed, next to my legs.  Her purr therapy is relaxing.  I literally feel my stress draining out and my muscles loosening.  Her presence is a great comfort.

My day was not over yet.  My alarm rang after an hour and I was up and heading out for speech/ cognitive therapy.  I was still tired and my mind foggy.  It was a hard session.  We worked on written instructions.  I struggled to follow the multistep exercise.  I was accurate but extremely slow.  At one point, I got frustrated.  “Crap!  Can you believe I have a Master’s Degree and I can’t fill out a simple worksheet!”  Cindy reminded me gently that it’s not intelligence, it’s damaged neurons.  At least I am done with formal education.  I don’t think I could complete a degree anymore.  I struggle with my Continuing Education Units.  CEU trainings are not nearly as complex as graduate school.   I left the session with a screaming migraine and fighting tears.

Brigid, age 4 months. She's now 9 months and much bigger.

When I got home, I took my migraine medications, got into my pajamas, and laid in bed.  I could no longer fight the tears.  I cried for what I lost and how hard the journey seems.  Brigid jumped up and head butted, purring.  I rolled onto my side and she snuggled next to me, still purring.  I petted her, gradually calming my tears.  I feel asleep to her song and woke with her sleeping next to me.  Instead of getting up, I stayed there, enjoying the warmth and comfort of my young cat.   When I finally got out of bed, I felt better.   Time to eat… finally.

Playtime with the ferrets was fun tonight.  Kaliyah was in a hyper mood.  We played magic carpet.  I dragged an old towel on the ground, Kaliyah leaped on it and wrestled it into submission.  I watched her enthusiastic weasel war dance, smiling.  Tosca fascinated me with her determination to get “pinky” into her cage.  Pinky is a fair-sized stuffed teddy bear with no ears.  Her enthusiastic play resulted in earectomies, as they were being torn off.  It is an interesting looking bear and Tosca’s favorite toy.  She tried to climb the cage with the bear in her teeth.  It was not a successful endeavor.  The bear is just too awkward to carry in her teeth while climbing.  Finally, she hissed in disgust, and dragged her bear out the room, down the hall, and tried to stash it under her chair.

The lesson from today is staying in the moment.  I enjoyed times of peace in chaos by staying mindful and allowing my problems to drift away.  I stayed connected with experiencing the softness of Brigid’s fur and the vibration of her purring.  I felt peace and a moment of connection to life.  I laughed and enjoyed playing with my ferrets.  I didn’t think about my struggles or worry about the future or lament the past.  I just was.  Mindfulness brings peace and connection in even the most chaotic moments.


8 responses to “Purr Therapy and sleep

  1. purr therapy!! I am not sure what happened to you or what accident you are referring to, but I remember when after a car accident I was in where my sacrum, wrist and arm got broken, my hip got pushed out of socket and multiple deep bruises were sustained (can’t remember accurately but am pretty sure I got a concussion as well…)…I was in a care center after being in the hospital for quite awhile and they had a therapy cat. There were many times where I was wheeled out of my room in my reclining wheelchair and was able to pet the therapy cat… it helped soooooooo much just to be able to hold something soft and furry and cuddly and loving. I slept alot afterwards too…hope you are healing up well.


      • ugh… mine was “just” a head on colission, other drivers right side smashed into OUR right side and I was the passenger… got smashed up pretty bad. How long ago for you?


      • wow. keep on keeping on. Its not easy, but sure worth it. There were times I hated my OT’s and PT’s, but they didn’t let me give in and so grateful for them now. Didn’t make it easy, but looking back 10 years later, so glad I kept with it.


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