Nov 252013

When it comes to caring fwoman sleeps on the sofaor a parent, spouse or other loved one, sleep is not for beauty. It is essential to maintain health and the energy needed to be a caregiver. Uninterrupted, restorative sleep (7 to 9 hours) is recommended by most experts.

But for many of the nation’s 65 million family caregivers, sleep is an elusive luxury.  In fact, a National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) study on caregiver health risks found 87 percent of those caregivers surveyed suffered from insomnia.

If you suffer from insomnia or sleep deprivation, you are at risk for numerous health issues. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), more than 50 percent of people older than age 65 suffer sleep disorders that ultimately shorten their lives. This deprivation of sleep is called sleep debt. In an interview with WebMD, Susan Zafarlotfi, Ph.D., clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said, “Sleep debt is like credit card debt. If you keep accumulating credit card debt, you will pay high interest rates or your account will be shut down until you pay it all off. If you accumulate too much sleep debt, your body will crash.”

Insomnia typically is a function of not being able to relax our minds and our bodies. To get some sleep, try these tips from Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, associate physician, Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University:

1. Create a sleep-inducing environment: a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool room.

2. Do not use your bedroom for anything other than sleep or sex. No television, no laptops.

3. Make sure you do not eat at least two to three hours before bedtime, and avoid caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime. Note that smoking can cause trouble sleeping.

4. If you are tossing and turning at night and you cannot get those eyes closed, try drinking green or chamomile tea before bed or put a lavender pillow near your head to aid relaxation.

5. Create consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends. Our bodies have internal clocks called circadian rhythms that synchronize our active and rest states with biochemical reactions in our bodies. Circadian rhythms are based on light/dark cycles, with light having the most impact on our ability to get to and stay in restorative sleep.

For caregivers, it is time to awaken to the fact that sleep may be your best medicine.  Sleep well.

Excerpted from A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care by Sherri Snelling (Balboa Press).


About the Author 

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club and author of “A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care,” is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self-care” while caring for a loved one.  She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving.

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  8 Responses to “Five Tips to Help Caregivers Get Their Zzzs”

  1. I am a care giver, my spouse has alhizmers. I have lots of questions, that are not answered by the information provided. I have gotten lots of answers, but not enough. My spouse, can't set still very long and always has to be singing or humming. He doesn't remember the words, so he makes them up. Some of the words are not words at all, but scrambled jargon. He repeats silly things over and over, until I say , I hear you, then he says why don't you answer me. There is nothing to answer. I know, that I just need to respond to the alhizmers and move right along, but how do you respond to "the alligators are coming to get you" or and there is no way for me to spell this so, just try phonics "moclalata camacalu sokodoe". I need to say parts of the day are as normal as one can get with this stage of alhizmers. There doesn't seem to be enough doctors that specialize in alhizmers, our wait for a neurologist was five months out, we go May 2.

    • Hello there: I am a care giver, too and have experienced the same thing with others that I have contact with. What I have done with pretty good success is a couple of things: I use recorded music that is of the patient's generation (usually 30-50's music) to help with the movement and sometimes agitation. Secondly, I also use travel magazines with bright colorful pictures and will sit with the patient for several minutes looking at the different pictures. Lastly, I will respond to the "jibberish" with complete and accurate sentences just as if we are in a regular conversation.
      Be patient and keep trying. Good luck!

  2. I am a caregiver, my husband has Alzheimer's. he does exhibit a little more confusion in the evening as far as where certain rooms in the house are, even where the refrigerator is. We cope with this with a sence of humor. His biggest problem is that he cannot sleep at night except for an hour. Here and there. He goes to bed and an hour later he is up and sitting a chair in the living room. I know he dozes off but he also dozes during the day so he is not getting enough sleep(nor am I). The neurologist doesn't have any suggestions because he gets really confused on drugs that have anticholenergic properties. He also has a new pacemaker so I have tried over the counter herbal things but so far no luck. Anyone have similar problems and/or suggestions.

  3. I really don't know what to say. my husband was diagnosed with alz., tomorrow we are going to a dr's. appointment for our handicapped son, who is showing signs of dementia. it is sad that they are very close. our son and also my husband we have been married 48 years. our son turns 38 in 2 weeks he has multiple problems born with hydroencephalic. moderately retarded i have watched my husband it seems he is slowly going down hill. he would be hungry and for get about the food he had requested and forget to eat what was on his plate.sometimes he would have a glazed look or almost fall asleep.i would just pat his hand . now I'm wooried he will be under nourished because he tells me he is still hungry I think he has lost his sense of taste. ..after my sons day at the dr's we go back in 2 days for my husband check up . with alzheimers. now are son is living in a very good group home. that is a good respite for me. . I appreciate having these blogs to read it helps me a lot.

  4. I am a nursing student and am doing a paper on Dementia and the care givers of the person with dementia. What are some of the health issues care givers face while caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease or dementia?

  5. While caring about your ill relative, it is very important not to forget about yourself. You are overwhelmed with the feeling of being needed, that without you your relative will not be able to exist and you start to put all of your energy into caring. That can actually be harmful, because you should live your life as well. If you are bothered by different thoughts that prevent you from being calm, ask someone for help or create such environment where you will be free from your fears connected to your ill relative. Have some rest, it is really needed.

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