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Here’s to the caregivers. The noble, selfless people taking on the responsibility to always be on-call for another person in need. Here’s to the ones who spend countless hours helping their loved ones.
While we truly appreciate what you do for your loved ones, we have a question for you – If you spend countless hours helping out, when are you sleeping?
With all of your other responsibilities, hobbies, and plans, we bet your sleep and sleeping patterns are utterly destroyed. To find the time to sleep seems intangible. You need to be relaxed enough to fall asleep. Do you find your caregiving responsibilities hindering your ability to relax?
In our quest to promote healthy sleep, we set out to arm ourselves with knowledge about how caregiving negatively impacts your sleep causing fatigue, stress, and what is commonly referred to as ‘caregiver burnout’. We’ve read up on some studies to try and understand the challenges that you’re facing and what you’re going through, and we’ve taken the time to prepare some useful tips on what to do when the caregiving life starts taking its toll on your sleep.
So, without further ado, let’s dive right into it.
What the studies say?
Oh, the number of studies (like this one or this one over here) exploring the idea that caregiving is linked to how good you sleep all say the same thing – Caregiving is undoubtedly characterized by a lot less sleep and longer time to fall asleep. People not only report poorer sleep but greater fatigue, stress, and symptoms of depression.
Let’s give attention to the stress caregiving comes with. The idea of holistic health is to have every part of your life very well balanced. And when you are in a position to care for a loved that’s suffering from dementia or cancer, the balance quickly dissipates. The primary reason? It’s so darn stressful! Add the fact that a lot of caregiving is done at night to the mix, and you’ll begin to understand why you complain about your sleep deprived self. Continuously waking up at night directly impacts your sleep-wake cycles and when this turns into a habit, the quality of your sleep starts to deteriorate exponentially.
We’ve drifted a little bit. Let’s get back to the stress part. While caregivers report high spiritual well-being and social support, they also report stress so particularly intense that it finds its own term in the medicinal vocabulary – caregiver burden.
What’s more concerning is that a fifth of caregivers turn to smoking, liquor or sleep meds to help them cope with everything that’s going on, and all of that leads to addiction all too often.
It’s a never-ending cycle. Stress leads to sleep deprivation and insomnia, caregiving becomes more challenging due to the impact on your overall health. All of that leads to even more stress which in turn creates even more difficulty in maintaining sleep. Complete the cycle a few times and watch as you begin to feel the symptoms of caregiver burnout.
Caregivers, beware of sleep deprivation
Make a habit of not getting enough sleep for too long, and watch as you slowly get sucked into the realm of chronic sleep deprivation. What’s even more troubling is that if you let sleep deprivation hit you on your forehead, you will put your loved one at risk.
You see, the sleep-deprived not only have trouble focusing, but their reaction times also get all slow and sluggish. Hell, you might even start forgetting where you put your keys, let alone trying to take care of a loved one properly. Sleep deprivation is a sort of caregivers’ hell – especially if your to-do list contains something important as administering medication. Research after research clearly shows that healthcare professionals who do their job while they’ve had an hour of sleep the last 4 nights are more likely to make mistakes and put their patients at risk.
Let’s connect all of it now. Think of it like this. Less and poorer quality sleep equals emotional instability. Being sleep deprived means affecting the REM phase that helps your subconscious process all the things that had an emotional impact you the day before. Without balanced REM sleep, you basically turn into emotional wreckage. Your fuse will become shorter and shorter, you will find yourself throwing anger tantrums, oh and you will cry over the smallest of setbacks.
While REM regulates emotions, deep sleep regulates your physique. During the deep sleep phase, your body does the much-needed restorative work from the physical efforts the day before. Since being a caregiver is a job that involves emotional stability as much as physical health, going through the phase of deep sleep is incredibly important.
Further down the road of sleep deprivation comes weight gain. Getting into the habit of missing out on your sleep dysregulates leptin production – the hormone responsible for regulating your appetite. It’s interesting how sleep deprivation plays tricks on you and overproduce ghrelin instead – ghrelin is the criminal hormone that makes us crave fatty, sugary food. Fast forward this scenario a month or two, and we’re certain you are already 10 pounds overweight, wishing you’d never got into caregiving. Woah, let’s not go there, what you are doing is selfless and noble – always remember that.
Let’s get back on the subject. We’ve got sleep deprivation affecting your REM, your deep sleep, your weight gain, so what’s next on the agenda?
Your immune system. The more you are sleep deprived, the less you are well-rested, resulting in the probability that you will catch a cold going through the roof and up into the skies! If you’re sick, you can’t properly care for someone else, now can you?
All of this sounds incredibly intimidating, but not as intimidating as long-term sleep deprivation. The kind that turns one restless night into hundreds, the kind that has you on the ropes of serious health issues like cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, endocrine disorders, kidney disease, altered immune functioning and full-blown depression.
To top it all off, not scheduling some “me” time that includes lots of sleep means you are missing out on all sorts of other activities that make life worth living. Let’s see how you answer a few questions. When’s the last time you’ve spent some quality time friends with family? When’s the last time you’ve read a book or enjoyed a movie? When’s the last time you had a good night’s sleep? And let us tell you – being able to answer positively on all these questions starts with a good night’s sleep.
Counting sheep’s advice for caregivers
How much sleep does one need exactly? While the recommended amount for adults ranges from 7 to 8 hours per night, most caregivers sleep less than that.
It’s a problem you should tackle head on, caregivers. Get better sleep, we beg of you. Start devising a plan to achieve it right now. Both you and your loved ones will be grateful for it. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll also do your job better, and you’ll do it with a smirk on your face.
Since we desperately want to lend you a helping hand, we’ve prepared several pieces of advice and tips on how to get your overall holistic health back through better sleep. So, here we go.
Remember Lord of the Rings? Frodo was given a duty to fulfill, but over the course of the plot, we find out that he couldn’t have done it without the help of his friends. It’s the same with caregiving. It’s just too much of a burden to bear for one person. That’s why it’s a good idea to seek assistance. Reach out to professional caregivers, look for respite care services, maybe even discuss moving to assisted living facilities with your loved one. Other than that, form an emotional support system around you. Your family members and friends are there to lend a helping hand. See what they can do for you. They could take on a shift once a week. Even if it’s something small as going to the supermarket or walking your dog for you, it will make the exhausting burden of caregiving just a little more bearable.
Bedroom is the room you sleep in
We often think of bedrooms as sacred temples reserved for sleep, restoration, and recovery only. You should too. What this means is that you should avoid doing anything other than sleep in your bedroom. No activities. No work. No worries. No stress. And especially no caregiving. In fact, go the distance to devoid all the clutter in your bedroom reminding you of work or responsibilities.
When we said to think of your bedroom as a sacred temple, we weren’t kidding. Make an effort to keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark. Invest in a mattress that’s cozy and comfy. Buy incense sticks or essential oils to help soothe you when you go to sleep. Get a houseplant that can purify the air and help induce sleep.
Maintain a good sleeping hygiene
Quality sleep begins with quality habits. Think about it – would heavy meals or heavy exercise right before bedtime help you to have a good night’s sleep? Will liquor and coffee do your sleeping hygiene any good after hours?
Don’t stop there, though. Make absolutely sure you turn off any tech and electrical gadgetry before dream time. Electrical devices emit blue light that your brain transcodes as sunlight itself. In simpler words, blue light makes you think it’s daytime which will make a lot harder to fall asleep.
Maintain a tight sleep schedule
As we’ve already discussed – good habits equal good sleep. A tight sleep schedule is imperative for maintaining regular sleeping patterns. Make going to bed and waking up at the same time every day your habit. The more you practice this, the easier it will be to wake up and fall asleep at pre-set times.
Make your days stress-free
This can be tough to squeeze in with all your responsibilities, but daytime exercise can help you de-stress and release negative energy. The ideal time for a workout that will help improve your sleep is in the morning.
Another thing you can do to unwind and decompose during the day is yoga. Not only will you stay fit and flexible, but you will learn all the breathing exercises that go a long way in eliminating stress.
Make your nights stress-free
We will say it yet again. The third time’s the charm – good habits equal good life. Following this golden nugget, make a routine before bedtime too. Give soothing activities a go before bed. Take a bubble bath. Meditate your stress away. Put the breathing exercises you learned at yoga to good use. As you practice these activities, you will find your mind and body slowly starting to relax and get into a state where falling asleep is a piece of cake.
Journal your worries away
Journaling is that one-takes-care-of-all-things method of de-stressing. Not only will you find resolutions to your problems through writing, but you will also have a way to emotionally vent. Think about it as a medium in which you can express worry, anger, and frustration instead of throwing tantrums at other people. You will also have the opportunity to reflect on your experiences and challenges as a caregiver. To top off all of these benefits, journaling also provides a well-deserved break. Seriously, every time you feel like you are going to implode, take just 10 minutes a day to journal your stresses away.
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Michael is a professional writer based in Boston and someone who has always been fascinated with the mysteries of sleep. When he’s not reading about new sleep studies and working on our news section, you can find him playing video games or visiting local comic book stores.