Interrupted sleep can be harmful to caregivers health

September 14, 2017

woman in bed with a pillow over her head trying to drown out noise so she can sleep

In 2013 my husband’s aorta dissected. He had three emergency operations and, during the third one, suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed his legs. The night I drove him to the hospital I became his primary caregiver and advocate. After being hospitalized for eight months my husband was released to my care.

Catheterization was part of this care. Every morning at 3 a.m. the alarm clock went off, and I stumbled out of bed to help my husband catheterize. Afterwards he usually went back to sleep. I didn’t. Instead, I tossed and turned and worried about the coming day. Although a paid caregiver came at 6:30 a.m. and stayed two hours to get my husband up, I was still involved in his care.  

By one in the afternoon I was yearning for sleep. Interrupted sleep took a toll on me, and may be taking a toll on you. Perhaps you get up in the middle of the night to give a loved one medicine. You may have to get up to rescue a loved one who has fallen down. Personal health problems—arthritis, bursitis, restless legs, and bathroom breaks—may interrupted your sleep.

Rick Nauert, PhD examines this sleep disorder in “Interrupted sleep Can Be as Harmful as  No Sleep,” posted on the PsycCentral website. He uses new parents as examples of interrupted sleep. Although they’re awake a short time, interrupted sleep disrupts the parents’ normal sleep rhythms. “Parents often report feeling more exhausted in the morning than when they went to bed the night before,” he explains.

Nauert cites a study published in the journal of Sleep Medicine that states interrupted sleep is equivalent to no more than four hours of consecutive sleep. Wow! One thing is sure: You need at least seven hours of sleep. Over time, interrupted sleep can become sleep deprivation, and it’s dangerous.

According to a WebMD article, “10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss,” the dangers of lack of sleep include:

  • Slower reaction time
  • Impaired thinking
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of stroke, diabetes
  • Lower sex drive
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased weight gain

“Sleep loss impairs judgment, especially about sleep,” the article concludes.

Thankfully, I found some solutions for interrupted sleep. To give me an extra hour of sleep, I changed the paid caregivers’ arrival time from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. I followed the advice of my husband’s occupational therapist. Her idea: make a catheterization kit and let my husband, a retired physician, catheterize himself. I made the kit and set it on his bedside table.

Stacy M. Peterson and Brooke L. Werneburg, in their Mayo Clinic website article  “Sleep: The Foundation of Healthy Habits,” ask patients to establish a bedtime routine. We had a good routine; I just started it 45 minutes earlier. I continued to take naps when I needed them. However, I was careful not to nap for more than an hour.

Interrupted sleep is a serious health problem. Don’t let interruptive sleep interrupt your life and caregiving. Take action now!

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. I’m a 24 hour caregiver and it astounds me even after 20 years of doing this that most ppl think just because they are paying you that your a robot and you shouldn’t complain about sleep. Right now I’m with a woman that’s incontinent and has just had minor back surgery. I’m her hands, legs, everything she won’t do a thing on her own including holding her own toothbrush. If I even suggest that I’m tired because I’m up every 2 hours without fail i get ” well you need to sleep when I do”, I wish there was a class on treating your caregiver like a human being.

  2. So yeah but what is the answer. YOU HAVE NO CHOICE AND NO HELP ! I take lots of cat naps during the day. Up 4-5. Per night. That’s my life and these experts tell me to sleep 8 hours. When. How? So even this article offers no help

  3. Yes! Couple times during the night…

    • I took care of my husband, Mike, for more than 10 years. He was a Vietnam vet with Agent Orange disabilities, mostly neurological as well as severe gastric issues. He slept most of the day, every day. I couldn’t do that. He needed help with most everything. He might sleep most of the night, but one or two trips to the bathroom would wake me up and then, because I have ADHD, I was awake til late in the dark hours. It will be almost one year (next week) since I lost him. I’m even in another state, in a new bright, cheerful environment and I am still awake most nights, til 3 or 4. I use to sleep so well!!

  4. Im a single mom. 24/7 caregiver to my daughter whose care is completely dependent on me. I do it alone. Exhausted isnt even the word for it at this point. Seeing my daughter cant sleep due to her array of medical problems. Its surely taken a heavy toll on me.

  5. Tell me something I don’t know … Day and night, light or dark, it’s 24/7

  6. Yes, in zombie mode most of the time.

  7. then i’m in big trouble. i haven’t slept a full night in years.

  8. I do spurts of 1/2 Or a 1/4 of a sleeping aid. Switching between that and 6 hrs if sleep with no aid.

  9. Nobody cares, or should I say the ones that should don’t.

  10. Yes my dad died a little over a month ago and I still don’t function properly

  11. It’s now nearly three in the morning and I still can’t sleep. TOMORROW/today I have several appointments and more chores than I care to imagine to accomplish. So here I am, burning the late night oil on FB.

  12. So tired and it affects my full time job. I need to work to afford the care my brother needs. Yet, I only get about two hrs of sleep at a time and then I’m up taking care of him. He also doesn’t go to bed. He will stay up all night watching TV and banging around the house then start yelling for me to wake up because he needs his meds, he had an accident and needs to be cleaned up, he fell, etc. I’m tired.

  13. Six years of husband with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia has taken its toll on me, as his caregiver. I get few hours sleep many nights. He’s in his last stage bedridden. Many nights he talks in his sleep. If I take anything to sleep, I’m afraid I may not wake if he needs me.

  14. Husband is up a lot at night with his dad who has Alzheimer’s. I don’t know what to do. I know he is sleep deprived.

  15. I’m running on fumes lately. Yes, it takes a toll.

  16. Most definitely…loss of patience! I have had my own share of health issues: inflamed knee, back repeatedly out of alignment, stroke, afib.

  17. Oh yes. For around two years, I was caring for my husband, who couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time. I must have got only a handful of unbroken nights in that period – and it certainly showed.

  18. I find it hard to know my name on occasions !

  19. Too true. Have found the suggestions helpful…and catnap whenever possible. Thanks!

  20. Yes, but without waking up how would we check that our loved ones are all right (or be there to get help if they aren’t)?

    • Exactly! DO WHAT WE NEED TO DO. LOTS of naps vitamins. Self care. For family loved one a care facility is not an option. We make our choices. Deal with it.

  21. This was the worst for me…over seven years without four consecutive hours of sleep!

  22. I think I’m getting used to it.

  23. Well start taking care of your self mom kerry

  24. I usually get around four hours a sleep. I’ve been a caregiver for so long that I am used to it. I wish I could sleep more. I’m worried if I get sleeping meds then I might sleep through an emergency at home.

  25. Lack of sleep affects everyone but even more so for caregivers. I can’t think straight due to lack of sleep and sometimes, if the sleep is not restful, then I’m in even more trouble. In those times, I just have to take a break and get away for a few days. By myself. I’m blessed as my moms best friend will take her which allows me time to recuperate. Can’t do it alone.

  26. I can’t function without enough sleep. It gets ugly and I get sick.

  27. Yes we know that but apart from drugging my mother it ain’t going to happen

  28. Two hour MAX T a time times 20 plus years with no help or assistance.

  29. Yes lack of sleep definitely takes a toll on us . I was a 24/7 caregiver for my daughter who became a quadriplegic almost 6 years ago. Had to stop being her caregiver in doctors orders. Now I supervise her care. We were able to provide her with the own home & 24/7 care . My doctors told me I was not only suffering from exhaustion but a host of other conditions that just don’t allow me to do most of the heavy part of things she needs on a regular basis, she’s 49 & I’m 66 yrs old & my body just can’t take the amount of work anymore to care for her. I think most caregivers suffer from exhaustion & don’t even realize it or don’t want to admit that they have to let someone else take the reins in the care of their loved ones. It was very hard for me to take a step back & say ok it’s someone else’s turn to step up to the plate and handle what I no longer can.


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