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Why Sleep is a Caregiver’s Secret Weapon

woman sleeping in bed

The emotional strain of caring for an aging loved one and the depression many caregivers experience can contribute to sleep deprivation and trouble sleeping. As many as two-thirds of people caring for someone with dementia have trouble falling—or staying—asleep, according to a study from the University of Washington.

But a healthy sleep routine is critical to staying invigorated for the demands that caregiving requires. It can also help prevent caregiver burnout.

The Benefits of Sleep for Our Brain

A good night’s sleep helps your brain “clean up”. It flushes out toxins that build up during waking hours. These toxins are believed to possibly lead to the process that is linked to developing Alzheimer’s. In order to be the best caregiver you can be, you must look after your own brain health. This is effectively accomplished by ensuring the necessary amount of sleep. Most experts say that the average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

10 Sleep Tips for Caregivers

Here are ten tricks to help improve your sleep and combat trouble sleeping.

  1. Set a sleep schedule. And stick to it. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps your body’s clock stay on track. This makes you more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep every night.
  2. Try a new blanket. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders says adults with insomnia slept longer and spent less time awake when using a weighted blanket. These blankets provide a sense of pressure that feels like a hug. This is thought to decrease anxiety, which can leave you tossing and turning.
  3. Avoid snacking. It might make your stomach happy but a bedtime snack can mess with your body’s ability to sleep soundly. Scientists at the University of Arizona Health Sciences found nighttime snacking can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. These are factors associated with trouble sleeping.
  4. Stream your favorite song. A 2018 study by the University of Sheffield says listening to music while falling asleep can reduce sleep troubles. There isn’t a preferred song to help you get some zzz’s. Listen to whatever music you find calming or relaxing.
  5. Avoid alcohol. Consuming alcohol before sleeping can make it harder to stay asleep. Instead of a glass of wine or other alcoholic drinks to unwind, try a cup of chamomile tea or another decaffeinated beverage. Data from Loyola University Health System says a decaf drink before bed can promote restful sleep.
  6. Darken the room. The Loyola scientists say closing curtains and blinds is more conducive to sleeping than brightly lit rooms. If you’re worried about tripping in the middle of the night, use a small green night light in your hall or bathroom. A team of Oxford University researchers found green light leads to the rapid onset of sleep, so you’re more likely to slip back into your slumber after going to the bathroom or checking on your loved one.
  7. Quit smoking. Smoking tobacco has also been linked to trouble falling or staying asleep. Research found smokers are more likely to wake during the night and wake up too early in the morning.
  8. Power down. A 2018 study from the Salk Institute says staring at computer or TV screens before bed can make it hard to fall asleep. Avoid screens for at least one hour before going to bed. This will let your body shift into sleep mode easier once you go to bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t turn on the TV or check your phone. The light from electronics can disrupt your body’s sleep clock. This can make it harder to fall back asleep.
  9. Read a magazine. A quick and easy bedtime read can help your brain relax and prepare for sleep, says the Loyola data. The scientists say, “lighter content and shorter articles are ideal.” You can try catching up with entertainment and celebrity-focused magazines or those with positive stories and messages to promote calming and restful sleep.
  10. Use a sleep diary. Note your bedtime and wake time, activities (watching TV, eating, etc.) in the 2 to 3 hours before going to sleep. Pay attention to room temperature and any other factors that affect sleep. Be sure to note if you wake during the night (and the number of times) or if your sleep partner reports that you snore. You can review this with your doctor to look for possible sleep disorders or patterns that may be easily corrected.

We hope these sleep strategies help you and your loved ones fall and stay asleep. For more tips on getting support as a dementia caregiver, check out this blog: homecareassistance.com/blog/get-support-need-dementia-caregiving.

Resources
Sleep disturbances in caregivers of persons with dementia: Contributing factors and treatment implications
Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease- a Review of the Recent Literature
Sleep Medicine and Disorders
Sleep loss linked to nighttime snacking, junk food cravings, obesity, diabetes
How we use music as a possible sleep aid
Pre-sleep drinking disrupts sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is a nightmare for many Americans
Lighting color affects sleep, wakefulness
Can’t sleep? Quit smoking
Why screen time can disrupt sleep

About The Author

For over two decades, Gina Roberts-Grey has pored over studies and interviewed leading health experts on topics ranging from healthy aging, caregiving and longevity. Having been an active caregiver to her grandparents who lived into their 90’s, Gina is passionate about supporting caregivers through their journeys. Her work has been featured in publications like Woman’s Day, AARP, Oprah, Neurology Now and many more.