Providing care for a loved one can be stressful, and frequently results in sleep deprivation for the caregiver. This can endanger the caregiver’s health and possibly impair the level of care that he or she provides. Therefore, it is extremely important to take steps that can help the caregiver get better sleep.
The reasons for sleep deprivation are numerous, and may include factors such as anxiety about what lies ahead for your loved one, worry about financial strains, feelings of guilt or inadequacy in dealing with your loved one’s condition, and, of course, the sheer strain of dealing with day-to-day physical demands of providing care. Not to be ignored, as well, is the possibility that the caregiver’s sleep is being affected by a sleep disorder of his or her own.
For example, the National Institutes of Health says a common and often undiagnosed nighttime problem among adults is obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes shallow or interrupted breathing, interfering with restful sleep and endangering health in several ways. Therefore, caregivers experiencing poor sleep should consider consulting their doctor to rule out this and other treatable sleep problems as the first step toward getting better sleep.
Next, the caregiver’s attention should turn to the quality of his or her sleeping surroundings. As the AARP points out, it is important to create a nighttime environment that is “for sleeping, not caregiving.” Sleep in a room separate from your loved one, unless it’s absolutely necessary to be in the same room. Keep your room dark and comfortable, and free from your loved one’s medicines, medication schedules, lab reports and anything else related to caregiving that might activate nighttime anxiety.
AARP also suggests setting aside what it calls an “anxious hour,” preferably early in the evening, which can be devoted to caregiving issues that are of concern to you and need your attention. The idea is to do your worrying “at more convenient times” than when trying to get to sleep.
Here are additional suggestions for getting better sleep:
- Regulate exposure to light. To reinforce your body’s circadian rhythm, make sure you are exposed to an abundance of natural daylight while limiting your exposure to light from TV and computer screens as bedtime approaches. Light from electronic devices can reduce the production of melatonin, inhibiting sleepiness.
- Consider meditation and other relaxation techniques. For example, deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is widely recognized as an effective way to relieve stress. Harvard Medical School explains here why deep breathing works and how to do it properly.
- Avoid heavy meals and caffeine close to bedtime. A full stomach when you retire for the night often inhibits sleep. Caffeine, of course, acts as a stimulant. Choose decaffeinated tea, coffee or soft drinks later in the evening.
- Get regular exercise. Caregiving, of course, usually requires plenty of activity, but your sleeping is likely to benefit from a more formal physical regimen, even if it is simply a daily brisk 15-minute walk. If possible, try to establish a fairly regular time of day for this purpose. Do not exercise close to bedtime.
- Take advantage of your loved-one’s naps. A good way to supplement nighttime sleep is to take a nap in the daytime when your loved one is sleeping.
- Look into respite care. A few hours of “off-time” several days a week can be of great help in relieving the stress of caregiving, allowing you to refresh yourself with a movie, a trip to a museum or an opportunity to take care of matters unrelated to your loved one. This can be very helpful in reestablishing a good nighttime sleep pattern. Many agencies, both paid and volunteer, provide such services. Alternatively, you might be able to call upon one or more family members or trusted friends for periodic relief.
And finally, make full use of caregiver support groups. Many people are feeling the same sleep-inhibiting anxieties and stresses that affect you, under largely the same circumstances. It truly does help to share your experiences and ways of coping with others who fully understand what you are going through.