Color & Control:

Tips For Sleep-Deprived Caregivers

Sleeping through the night is a luxury for many caregivers, whether you are tending to a chronically ill and restless spouse or an infant that is frequently up during the wee hours.

By Eleanor Silverberg

Self-monitoring with self-awareness can help you get the sleep you need using the tool of acknowledging, assessing and assisting.

Sleep is vital for physical and mental well-being. However, you may find yourself becoming sleep deprived if you don’t have control over the situation you’re living in. For instance, it is impossible to sleep when you are living with a family member who has moderate-stage dementia and who is consistently getting up in the middle of the night to wander away from home.

On the other hand, the loss of sleep may not be due to the care recipient’s behaviour at all. Other factors can influence a caregiver’s sleep, such as your own physical condition (e.g., arthritis) or side effects from medication. Even when the care recipient is sleeping well, you may often find yourself tossing and turning with worry.

After assessing, you may come to acknowledge that it is more yourself, rather than the person you are caring for, that is keeping you awake at night. It is worth talking to your doctor if you suspect that you are not sleeping because of your own ill health or because of side effects from medication.

You might also find that you are having difficulty turning off your thoughts. You may be thinking self-sabotaging thoughts such as “I am never going to get a good night’s sleep ever again.” The good news is that you can gain control of this situation by working at turning off your thoughts or changing the thought to “I can help myself get the sleep I need.”

Can’t sleep? Don’t freak!
By remaining calm you will help yourself to gain control and prevent any negative, self-sabotaging thoughts from infesting your mind. Staying calm is restful, which is the next best thing to sleep. While in this relaxed state, try different strategies to lull yourself to sleep, such as breathing exercises or listening to your favourite soothing music. If you do not have a favourite, discover new restful music.

Make your bed the place you sleep or rest—and nothing else. If the fretting and racing thoughts persist, get a handle on them and get out of bed. Pick a fretting space in your home, outside of your bedroom, where you can go to let your thoughts run wild. Choose a space in which you do not regularly spend time—instead of fretting at the kitchen table, for example, select a place that you rarely occupy. When you are ready to stop and get back to sleep, return to your bed.

In cases where it is the person you are caring for that is keeping you awake at night, is it possible to arrange for a relief person, paid or unpaid, to get up with your family member so that you can sleep? Organizing regular shifts, if possible, is optimum. And instead of one night only, make the shift for a few nights in a row.

Getting enough sleep is necessary for you  to effectively carry out your caregiving role. If there seems to be no end in sight, it may be time to consider different care-plan options such as live-in help or long-term care. If the problem persists and daily coping is challenging, reach out for help. This does not show weakness, but rather is a strength with a reward sleep.

Eleanor Silverberg is the director of Jade Self Development Coaching.
She is a social worker, grief specialist, author and speaker.

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