Sleep Disruption: A Hidden Cost of Caregiving
New parents might scoff at the phrase, “sleep like a baby.” As we all know, caring for an infant involves a lot of sleepless nights! But providing care for a family member or loved one of any age can really disrupt a person’s sleep.
In the United States, more than 53 million people serve as a primary caregiver for a family member with a disability or chronic illness. Family caregiving involves providing social, emotional, and material support as well as helping to navigate complex health care and service systems. Caregivers spend countless hours monitoring their loved one’s health, transporting them to appointments, cooking meals, and keeping the home safe and clean. Although the work may be exhausting, family caregivers may not be getting good quality sleep.
A 2019 study showed that up to 76% of family caregivers reported sleep problems. And we know that disturbances in sleep can lead to other health problems like depression, dementia, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. So it’s important for family caregivers to prioritize their sleep.
Family caregiving is often an unpaid, 24-hour-a-day job, and most family caregivers simultaneously hold down a job outside the home. The risk of burnout is high. So, it’s not surprising that almost three-fourths of family caregivers report high levels of emotional stress. And that stress can contribute to sleep problems. Maybe they toss and turn at night, worrying about their loved one’s health. Or, if caring for a loved one with dementia, a caregiver may sleep lightly out of a need to be hyper-vigilant about nighttime wandering. Older adults are often woken at night by the need to use the bathroom. If they need assistance with toileting, that means the family caregiver will need to be up as well.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to car accidents or workplace injuries. A study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine showed that drowsy driving raises the risk of getting into a car accident by two and a half times. Family caregivers may not prioritize their own health, but as the old saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Similarly, you can’t provide care if you yourself are injured in a car accident!
Here are some ways family caregivers can improve the quality of their sleep:
Establish a consistent sleep schedule: Maintaining a regular sleep routine can help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, which can lead to improved sleep.
Create a sleep-conducive environment: This can include making the sleep environment dark, quiet, and cool, using a comfortable mattress and pillows, and avoiding television and computer screens before bedtime.
Practice relaxation techniques: Activities such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can improve sleep quality.
Get professional help if needed: If sleep problems persist, family caregivers should consider seeking the help of a doctor or sleep specialist to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Seek support: Family caregivers should also consider reaching out to support groups or friends to help manage the stress and demands of caregiving.
Take breaks and practice self-care: Family caregivers should try to take time for themselves, even if it’s just a few minutes each day, to recharge and reduce stress.
Avoid or reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption: While a drink in the evening might make one feel relaxed or tired, alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle, making a person more likely to wake up in the middle of the night. Similarly, those wishing to get a better night’s sleep should avoid caffeinated beverages six hours before bedtime.
For family caregivers, prioritizing their self-care and well-being means being more capable of caring for loved ones without burning out. Caring.com promotes the mental health of family caregivers. It provides information on preventing burnout and stress, along with many additional resources for caregivers, including support groups. Contact Right at Home to learn how our care professionals can help reduce the stress of family caregivers by allowing them to take time for themselves to relax and recharge.