May 3, 2016
Many family caregivers make their way through the day in a sleep-deprived haze. As they yawn repeatedly and guzzle coffee all day long, they may remember a time before caregiving, when they awoke refreshed and eager to greet the day after a night of restorative sleep. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel that way again?
Caregivers can have trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons:
- Frequently awakening to assist a loved one in the middle of the night
- Worrying about issues like finances or their loved one’s health
- Inadequate nutrition
- Use of stimulants like caffeine to stay awake during the day
- Lack of exercise due to time constraints
- Feeling guilty for sleeping or napping when there’s so much work to be done
The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that nearly three-quarters of people who care for a family member with dementia experience problems sleeping. And while a good night’s rest can make you feel refreshed and happy, sleeping also might help you ward off a host of medical problems.
Sleeping should not be viewed as an extravagant act. Quite to the contrary, sleep is necessary to your mental well-being and serves an essential health function. According to Harvard University, “Treating sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury, may be an important step in preventing a number of chronic medical conditions.”
Here are three benefits you can reap by prioritizing sleep in your caregiving life.
1. Sleeping can help you avoid weight gain
Have you ever noticed how you seem to feel hungry all day after you’ve tossed and turned the night before? You may find yourself raiding the pantry in search of cookies or potato chips. And no matter how much you munch, you still might feel hungry.
It’s not your imagination.
Your appetite is controlled by hormones secreted by the body at night. When you sleep poorly, your appetite hormones get out of whack. This can lead you to feel you need to stuff yourself with chips and cookies even when you’re not legitimately hungry. This type of eating can cause you to gain weight, which saps your energy and might make you less able to perform your caregiving functions.
In contrast, when you get an adequate amount of sleep you stand a better chance of getting through the day without craving junk food. When you’re well-rested, you can satisfy your hunger with foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These wholesome foods will give you energy, help you feel more alert and possibly keep you from packing on the pounds.
2. Sleeping can stave off the blues
Tossing and turning night after night certainly can make you feel depressed. You might be able to cope with an occasional sleepless night, but who wouldn’t feel irritable, impatient or mentally exhausted when that single episode morphs into weeks of insomnia?
This moodiness caused by poor sleep isn’t necessarily a temporary problem. Researchers are starting to correlate chronic sleep deprivation with long-term mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
When you get a solid seven or eight hours of sleep on most nights, you may find yourself feeling more patient, calm and capable as you go through your day. You already make sacrifices to provide care for a loved one; your mood should not be among them. You deserve to nurture your mental well-being with regular restful sleep.
3. Sleeping well may make you a safer driver
Picture this: You’re driving your loved one to a medical appointment. As you wait at a red light, you suddenly realize the driver behind you is honking. The light turned green, and you didn’t notice. Did you momentarily nod off?
This very scenario plays out day after day among people who are sleep deprived. Studies show a lack of sleep leads to fatigue and inattention. In fact, the Institute of Medicine estimates 20 percent of all motor vehicle accidents can be attributed to drowsy driving.
A good night’s sleep can help sharpen your motor skills and reflexes. After a restful night, you’ll not only feel more alert as you get behind the wheel, but you’ll likely be able to navigate traffic easier and more safely.
A few helpful tips for getting a good night’s sleep
If you now feel inspired to make sleeping a higher priority, here are a few practical tips for how to get all the Zzzs you need:
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Rise at the same time every morning.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine.
- Get some exercise, preferably in the fresh air, every day.
- Make your bedroom an inviting and relaxing place by keeping the environment dark and cool.
- If your caregiving duties require you to get up frequently during the night, arrange for respite care on a regular basis so you can get some uninterrupted sleep.
Sleep should not be viewed as a luxury for anyone. The restorative functions of sleep make it one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Give yourself—and your loved ones—the gift of rest. It likely will make you a happier caregiver in the long run.
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