Caregivers often find themselves stressed and exhausted at the end of the day. It’s often too easy to neglect personal sleep because we are feeling too stressed, angered, and guilty when caring for someone. As difficult as it may be, we can find ourselves in a place where we cannot afford to rest at all. According to Caregiver.org, the numbers are a cause for concern:
- 70% of caregivers for people with dementia report sleep problems
- 60% report sleeping less than 7 hours
- 10-20% use alcohol to go to sleep and/or sleep medication
- 41% of caregivers said they are awakened during the night by the care receiver
Being a caregiver can take a heavy toll on ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally. Sleep is arguably one of the easiest to go when we begin to struggle with what is happening. In my brief article, we cover 5 tips on how to ensure caregivers can get the most out of their time for sleep.
Schedule our sleep as much as we plan the rest of our day
The idea of scheduling your sleep isn’t about making sure you “forget” your rest. The goal is to put into focus that you need the sleep and care as much as your care receiver or loved one. Just as much as we plan our day or week for them, we want to ensure that we never lose the attention we deserve to give ourselves.
Sleep affects all parts of our lives. It goes without saying that better sleep means providing better quality care and support to the person who is receiving it. It also means being emotionally, physically, and psychologically well. The fact is you are just as much responsible for your well-being and overall health than the person you are caring for, and deserve to enjoy sleep for yourself.
Making sure our sleep environment is made to be its absolute best
When it comes time for our sleep, we want to ensure you get the absolute best kind possible. This means setting yourself and your sleep environment up for success. There are a few steps you can take to check off the list for best sleep possible. Here in bullet-point form what you can do to improve your sleep environment:
- Absolutely no noise if possible. You can use a white-noise machine to help drown any noise out.
- Completely dark room. You can use black-out curtains or a sleeping mask to help.
- A cool-temperature environment. A suitable range can be somewhere between 60-65°F (16-18°C).
- Avoid using electronic devices before bed, such as smartphones, laptops, and television.
- Sleeping on a quality mattress and pillow that is perfect for you.
It can be tough to get to sleep, but we can do ourselves a favor and make it a little easier. Making our sleep environment suitable for the best sleep possible can make it easier to fall asleep and sleep well.
Giving ourselves time to power down before bed, and doing so properly
It can be difficult to find time to unwind, and often times when we do have the opportunity, poor habits might not do us well. If you find yourself restless because of stress, anxiety, or anger, here are some things you can do to power down before bed:
- Write in a journal. This method is known to ease anxiety, depression, and stress. Something about putting our thoughts on paper can give perspective and a sense of control over what we are going through each day. We recommend two questions you can ask yourself each day to help uplift yourself: 1) what are two things you did well today? 2) what are two things you can improve and do better?
- Mindfully meditating. This method may be over-suggested, but we genuinely believe in spending a few minutes to listen to what is going through our head. You don’t have to silence your thoughts to “clear your mind”. To meditate is to understand yourself and bring a sense of presence back to where you are today. If you need guidance, we highly recommend Vishen Lakhiani’s 6-Phase Guided Meditation on Youtube.
- Reading a book. Simply reading for six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 68%. You can pick your favorite novel or choose a book to help learn a new skill. It can take your mind off things and help you focus on something pleasant that you can enjoy.
- Getting a good soaking. Letting off steam by giving yourself a soak with warm water can feel like a distant past time. Why not try it now? You can light some candles, add a little fragrance and some bubbles while you are at it. Just a few minutes of bathing can help relieve physical tensions and provide a moment of peaceful serenity just for you.
- Drinking tea. Done for centuries for medicinal benefits, drinking tea is a custom that can help with sleep, insomnia, anxiety symptoms, and stress. The very act of drinking tea requires a sense of presence and focus back to yourself. Almost any tea works, but be sure to watch out for caffeinated tea!
Developing a bedtime routine for easy transition to sleep
Sticking to your schedule is important for a good night’s sleep. It might be tough for us caregivers, so the next best thing to do is to develop a bedtime routine that we can follow when we need to shut down for the night. Your bedtime routine can involve the ideas we mentioned for powering down. It can also include the following:
- Doing your best to stick to the same sleep time each day as possible.
- Planning your morning, updating your calendar, and making sure anything upcoming is written down.
- Getting your bed ready with fresh sheets and fluffing your pillow.
- Getting dressed for bed by changing into your comfy pajamas.
- Saying prayers and being grateful for what and who we have with us today.
- Enjoying soft, peaceful music as you read or write.
- Saying your goodnights to your loved ones.
Having a bedtime routine on paper or in mind can help set a new tone for the night when it’s time for you to rest. You might not get it right the first few times, but as you try new things and develop your bedtime routine, we can better take care of your needs and transition into sleep easier.
Avoiding common pitfalls that might keep you awake when you want to fall asleep
Falling asleep doesn’t have to be difficult. Following a bedtime routine and allowing yourself to power down can do wonders. However, we might unwittingly be setting ourselves up for an unsuccessful sleep. Let’s take a look at common ways which we might be negatively affecting our sleep:
- Drinking coffee, soda, or alcohol 6 to 8 hours before bedtime. Caffeine and alcohol can cause wakefulness and interrupt our natural sleep cycles.
- Eating a heavy meal just before bed. Be sure to finish your dinner meal 2-3 hours before bed as (in)digestion can keep you up.
- Not speaking to your care receiver’s physician about sleep disturbances they might be going through. It’s important for your loved one and your own health.
- Not sticking to a regular bedtime. We understand this might be difficult, but a bedtime can provide a sense of familiarity and stability. It’s important we do our best to stick to a particular time.
- Feeling guilty, angered, or incapable. Finding someone you can openly speak to and share your problems with is important for your own well-being. Consider therapy if you have to because it can make a world of difference for you.
Our Final Thoughts
This article can serve as a useful reminder that we need to take care of ourselves just as much. It’s easy to neglect ourselves when we are so focused on others, and sleep is usually the first to go. When we sleep well, that means one less thing to worry about and one more thing that can help us be our best selves each day. It’s not just about our care receiver, but also you. Sleep well!
Brian from MySleepyFerret.com