How are you sleeping at night? Or are you sleeping at all? Getting a good night’s rest is one of the simplest (and most cost-effective) means of caregiver respite. Insomnia can prove to be problematic – especially when you have additional caregiving duties on your own plate. Without proper rest, it is difficult (if not impossible …) for the human body to recharge and continually function. Considering the amount of extra work they can do on a daily basis, caregivers need the extra energy when helping an aging parent, friend, spouse and/or partner. As a former co-caregiver for my own parents, I can attest to the fact that I was often kept running with my extra responsibilities and getting a good night’s rest was certainly appreciated. To help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night, try these tips:
Begin with evaluating your own bed. What are you sleeping on? Is your mattress soft, lumpy, or firm? It is important for your mattress (along with your pillow as well …) to be comfortable and provide ample support. If you have to try changing positions a number of times to fall asleep or you wake up repeatedly with joint pain, it could be time to invest in a new bed. Mattresses, like many other things, do eventually wear out with continued use. Do you sleep with a partner? If so, he/she could be easily tossing and turning (or snoring) and keeping you awake. Try sleeping independently for a few nights to see if that will make a difference.
Keep it cool in your bedroom. It will be easier for you to fall asleep – and stay asleep – if you’re not too warm. Lower the room temperature before you retire for the night and, if necessary, toss another blanket on the bed. You could also run a fan (choosing a lower speed will not only ensure that you don’t freeze overnight but will also provide you with some background white noise – this can be soothing to hear).
Get your caregiving work done before going to bed. Granted, you can’t always shut your mind off completely; however, you can help yourself get some much-needed sleep by completing what needs to be done before calling it a night – meaning that you are not planning tomorrow’s caregiving schedule while you are lying in bed. When you go to bed with unfinished work still looming over you, your mind will still be racing and it will be more difficult to relax.
Breathe. Begin with inhaling deeply. Concentrate on holding your breath for a few seconds and then exhaling. Repeat as necessary.
Create a routine. Humans like habits. Turning in for the night at the same time each night can become repetitive and your body will positively adjust.
Turn off the news. While I am all for keeping up with current affairs, resist tuning in to any later evening news broadcasts. If you watch or hear any disturbing news stories, you will remember them and they can affect your ability to relax and fall asleep. On a related note, steer clear of watching any graphic horror movies on NetFlix.
If you still aren’t sleeping soundly, consult with your doctor and consider asking for a referral to see a sleep specialist (you may have other issues which inhibit you from sleeping that need to be identified and managed). Be patient. Getting your mind and body used to a new routine may take some time, but it can prove to become very worthwhile and beneficial. By effectively shutting down for the night, you can get a much better rest and that, undoubtedly, will be much better for you in the long run!
Please watch for my further discussion and tips on caregiver self-care in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.