Improving Sleep For Family Caregivers

Everyone misses out on a good night’s sleep at some point or another. But when adequate sleep becomes a nightly struggle, it drains energy and can drastically affect a person’s health, mood and daily functioning.

People who have difficulty falling asleep and-or staying asleep might be dealing with the sleep disorder called insomnia. Symptoms of insomnia also can include waking up too early in the morning or feeling unrefreshed upon waking. Insomnia is classified as either short-term or chronic, when it lasts at least three nights a week for a month or longer.

Adults generally need seven to eight hours of restorative sleep a night.

Some 60 million Americans are affected by insomnia each year. Among family caregivers, sleep deprivation is common because of the physical and emotional stress of caring for another, often while maintaining the responsibilities of children, work and home.

Worry over an aging loved one’s condition and the exacting duties of overseeing bathing, dressing, medications, nutrition, doctor appointments, finances and other daily needs of the loved one takes its toll on family caregivers and their normal sleep patterns.

With little to no sleep, family caregivers can get stuck in a wearisome cycle of exhaustion, mental fog, irritability and depression, which ends up affecting the quality of care they give their loved one. They risk depleting their own health and face eventual caregiver burnout.”

Here are some ways family caregivers can safeguard against insomnia:

• Discuss recurrent sleep problems with your doctor. Certain medical conditions such as chronic pain, breathing difficulties, frequent urination, gastro-esophageal reflux disease and an overactive thyroid can lead to insomnia. Ask about ways to help alleviate underlying causes of insomnia.

• Adjust caffeine and energy drink consumption. Caffeine is a major culprit in disrupting sleep. To regain regular sleep, it helps to eliminate caffeine completely or avoid caffeine consumption after 2 p.m.

• Incorporate exercise into every day. Research shows that

exercise during the day promotes better sleep at night. Even a brief 10-minute walk outside or climbing stairs inside can improve nightly rest.

• Unwind tight muscles before sleep with a warm bath or shower and gentle upper-body stretches or yoga.

• Reduce environmental factors like light, noise and extreme temperatures that interfere with sleep.

• Regularly ask for help from others. Enlisting other family members, friends and in-home caregivers to help with meals, chores and health needs reduces stress and aids in restful sleep.

• Avoid eating too much late in the evening. A heavy meal or snack too close to bedtime can cause heartburn and overall discomfort when lying down to sleep.

• Curb alcohol and nicotine use late in the day. Both substances can reduce quality of sleep.

• Practice calming habits before bed by reducing stimulating activities such as watching TV, intense reading or working at the computer.

• Take a look at medications that have sleeplessness side effects. Many medications, including those used to treat colds, allergies and high blood pressure, can disrupt sleep.

• Make a to-do list before going to bed if you find yourself waking in the middle of the night mulling over responsibilities and problems.

Gregg Fulton is the owner of Right at Home in Bluffton, SC, and Savannah. rathhs@hargray.com