Getting back to sleep when you have to get up at night
young family care worker lying awake in bed after getting up to check a child's insulin levels in the middle of the night

Caregiving often means sleep disruptions, for both you and your loved one. Even when waking up is part of your regular routine — you need to administer medication at regular intervals, for instance — getting back to sleep and getting the rest that you need (and deserve) can be challenging. 

You don’t need to lie awake, though, worrying about the rest you’re not getting. With a few proven tricks for falling asleep fast, you can fulfill your caregiving responsibilities while still getting plenty of rest. 

Use The 4-7-8 Method

Touted as one of the fastest ways to get to sleep, the 4-7-8 method, also known as relaxing or rhythmic breathing, can help you clear your mind and reduce anxiety.

It’s quite simple: Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight seconds. When you breathe out, do so forcefully. You may need to repeat the cycle up to four times, but focusing on your breath this way should help you fall asleep. 

Get Bored 

Does this sound familiar? You wake up at 2 a.m. to check on your loved one, and then head back to bed. You can’t sleep, so you grab your phone, and the next thing you know you’ve spent two hours filling your Amazon shopping cart and reading articles about celebrities — and it’s almost time to wake up and start the day. 

Most of us are naturally wired to avoid boredom. We seek stimulation and entertainment, and when we can’t fall asleep, we have to do something to help pass the time. For many people, that means looking at a phone or tablet, turning on the television, or reading. Unfortunately, those activities often work too well, only serving to keep you awake. 

Successfully getting back to bed when you wake up at night requires doing the exact opposite of something interesting. A boring, mindless, unstimulating activity is what you need to get drowsy and drift back to dreamland. Some boring things that have been known to help improve sleep for seniors and their caregivers include:

  • Counting backwards from 1,000. Try counting backwards by 2’s or 3’s — that makes the task complicated enough so you remain engaged, but still boring enough that you’ll probably fall asleep before you even get halfway through.
  • Say the alphabet forwards and backwards. Same principle as counting: Complicated but mind-numbing.
  • Read something boring. Leave the thrillers on the shelf, and choose something slow and meandering instead. 
  • Meditate or pray. Clearing your mind and practicing mindfulness and gratitude can help you relax and fall asleep. 

The most important thing is that whatever you decide to do, it’s not stimulating or energizing at all. Don’t choose activities that cause stress, but something mindless and relaxing that will make you drowsy and desperate to fall asleep. 

Think Positive

Nothing will keep you awake longer than lying awake stressed about being awake. Instead of staring at the clock and thinking about how much sleep you aren’t getting, flip the script. Think “I get to sleep for three more hours before it’s time to get up,” and then try a breathing or relaxation technique to fall asleep.

If you need to, try a positive visualization that can help you relax and get back to sleep. Try thinking about a favorite vacation spot, your favorite activities, or even happy memories. Research shows that thinking positive thoughts before falling asleep can not only help you fall asleep faster, but can also help you have happier dreams and wake up feeling more positive. 

Take Care of Yourself 

Self care is vital for any caregiver — and when you have fragmented sleep, it’s especially important. Maintaining good sleep hygiene can help you get better quality sleep, and help you fall asleep faster if you do wake up. Even during periods when you might get less sleep, maintaining the following habits can ensure that the rest you do get is restorative. 

  • Establish a bedtime routine. When it’s time to wind down, avoid using screens, and enjoy a cup of caffeine-free tea, take a warm shower, or do some light stretching to relax and get ready for sleep. 
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol might help you fall asleep initially, but it can disrupt your sleep and make it harder to get back to sleep when you’re awakened. If you want to indulge, enjoy your caffeinated or alcoholic beverages several hours before bed.
  • Get some exercise. Exercise is vital to your overall health, and it can improve your sleep. Even a brisk walk has significant health benefits, so try to get some daily activity wrong. Avoid exercising right before bed, though, as that can keep you awake.
  • Avoid naps. Caregiving is tiring, and you may be tempted to rest for a while during the day. Sleeping too much can disrupt your sleep cycle, though, and make it harder to get back to sleep at night. 
  • Follow the 20 minute rule. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of lying in bed, get up and do something boring. Once you are drowsy, get back into bed. 

Ultimately, if you struggle to get enough sleep, and can’t get back to bed no matter what you try, talk with your healthcare provider. They may have additional suggestions to help you get the rest that you need to remain healthy and take excellent care of your loved one. 

Robyn South

Robyn South is a Relations Specialist for the Sleep Advisor, a website that covers everything related to sleep, from mattresses to the newest science behind technology and wellness breakthroughs.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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