Caregiving takes lots of energy. You need restful sleep in order to have this energy. That’s a given. But circumstances and worries may keep you from sleeping. Even if you go to bed early, you may toss and turn, keep looking your bedside clock, and worry if sleep will come. Instead of being your friend, sleep may be your enemy. I found this out the hard way.

A year ago my husband’s aorta dissected. Our house was only blocks away from the hospital, and I was able to get him to the Emergency Department in time. Just in time, for my husband was bleeding to death. Surgeons operated on him three times in a desperate attempt to save his life. The first two operations were a temporary “fix” and he continued to bleed internally.

The third operation saved his life, but my husband had a spinal stroke during the 13-hour operation, and it paralyzed his legs. After being hospitalized for eight months he was dismissed to my care. I am grateful for my caregiving experience. My mother had stroke-induced dementia and I was her family caregiver for nine years. In 2007 my twin grandchildren lost their mother and father in separate car crashes, and the court appointed us as their guardians. Suddenly we were GRGs – grandparents raising grandkids.

Now I was my husband’s caregiver and I needed sleep. While sleep problems are common, they are a problem I don’t need. The source of my sleep problem was easy to identify – my husband’s incontinence. Every morning I get up at 3 a.m. help him with self-catheterization. Sometimes the procedure goes quickly, and other times I may be up  for 45 minutes to an hour. Once I am fully awake it is hard to get back to sleep.

1950s television set with a blank screenSo I have my little tricks. Often I visualize a blank television screen and try to empty my mind. Reversing my thoughts is another trick. I think about the good things I have done in a day, such as making a delicious dinner, catching up on laundry, paying bills, and enjoying television with my husband. When I do this, I am taking a chance because switching thoughts takes mental effort, and this effort can keep me awake.

At 4:30 a.m. one morning I gave up and got up. You may have had similar experiences. Sleep is essential to quality caregiving and these suggestions from a Mayo Clinic website article, Sleep Tips: 7 Steps to Better Sleep, may help you. I have edited the tips and added some personal comments.

  • Have a sleep schedule. I try to go to bed at the same every night, between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. Lately I’ve been striving for the earlier time to get enough sleep.
  • Watch what you eat. No spicy dinners for me. Though I like spicy food, I avoid eating it for dinner. Mayo Clinic says you should not go to bed “either hungry or stuffed.”
  • Watch what you drink. If I feel like coffee after dinner, I make coffee that is ¼ caffeinated. Avoiding alcoholic beverages is a wise decision because alcohol can wake you up later.
  • Create a ritual. Full-service hotels turn down bedding, and I do too. Right after dinner I turn back the bed covers and get out my pajamas, a time-saving tactic.
  • Buy comfortable bedding. For some reason, I feel cozy and snug the minute I get under my quilt. I also have comfortable pillows.

Though sleep experts have differing opinions about naps, taking a nap in the afternoon is the only way I can make up for the sleep I have lost. But I am careful to sleep for only an hour. I hope you get the sleep you need and have sweet dreams. If you have more suggestions for getting a good night’s sleep, please share them with other caregivers in the comments.


Written by Harriet Hodgson
Rochester resident Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for writing for 38 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 36 books. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support. She is also a contributing writer for The Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. Harriet has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, Harriet has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. All of Harriet’s work comes from her life. She is now in her 19th year of caregiving and cares for her disabled husband, John. For more information about this busy author, grandmother, wife, and caregiver please visit

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  1. Sorry didn’t read the article. My thoughts are who can sleep during caregiving – especially if emotions are involved-one eventually collapses….

  2. I realized I am not in control .. it took awhile but I finally got there

    • I visualize taking off my worries like a big winter coat and walking toward the water’s edge in shorts in the warm sunny breeze


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