Energy-boosting Tips for Caregivers
November 11, 2015 | Home and Family
Caregivers can become overwhelmed by their responsibilities. The task of helping others is often time-consuming and stressful. On top of that, many caregivers don’t regularly get enough sleep.
Sleep loss can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies lack of sleep as a public health problem.
Insufficient sleep and caregiving go hand in hand. In a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving, 82 percent of caregivers said the support they provide negatively affects their sleep. Reasons abound.
Lack of time prevents caregivers from sleeping at least seven hours each night, the minimum number of sleep hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for people 18 years and older. Time is in short supply because caregivers are strapped with a staggering list of duties, everything from assisting with bathing to running errands to simply providing companionship. On top of that, some caregivers have full- or part-time jobs.
Sleep quality is another factor. Once caregivers finally do get to bed, good sleep doesn’t come easily. Sounds in the middle of the night, such as a loved one’s footsteps, can disrupt sleep. The mere thought that the person being cared for may awaken during the night forces some caregivers to sleep lightly.
The body needs a mix of light and deep sleep. Lack of deep sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement (REM), can harm the body’s immune system.
Sleep Loss Has a Bigger Impact on Women
While prolonged lack of sleep is harmful to both men and women, the health danger is particularly worrisome for women, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center. They say that women who lack the proper amount of sleep have an elevated risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression compared with men.
Most caregivers are women—66 percent, according to Family Caregiver Alliance. Those women spend up to 50 percent more time providing care compared with their male counterparts.
Steps to a Better Night’s Sleep
Start by doing what’s right for the body and avoiding things that can sap strength. Making a habit out of each of these tips can help:
1. Avoid unhealthy snacks. Foods consumed influence quality of sleep: big meals, sugary meals, fatty meals. Eating this way makes it harder to sleep at night.
2. Limit caffeine. While it’s true caffeine increases alertness, it also can increase insomnia.
3. Walk. According to a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a 10-minute walk will deliver more energy than a candy bar. Countless health professionals praise the health benefits of walking. It’s easier for most people to fit in a walk during the day than it is a trip to the gym.
4. Drink water. Dehydration increases fatigue. Water is the best thing to drink for staying hydrated, says the Mayo Clinic.
5. Don’t smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant, and stimulants reduce a person’s ability to sleep well. A smoking addiction will cause some people to wake up in the middle of the night craving a cigarette.
6. Limit alcohol. “Alcohol and a good night’s sleep don’t mix,” says WebMD. It reduces precious REM sleep, the restorative, deep sleep the body needs each night.
7. Just don’t do it. An unexpected break in a caregiver’s day should not automatically be viewed as an opportunity to catch up on laundry, the dishes or house cleaning. Cut back on your “must-do” list and conserve energy.
When lack of sleep impairs cognitive ability, mistakes get made. Forgetfulness sets in. Imagine the consequences of a missed or incorrect dosage of medicine. When tired, a caregiver can be a danger to the person receiving care.
You have to take care of yourself. Ask for help or take people up on their offers to help. If you can afford to outsource work, do it. Hiring someone else to prepare meals, do laundry or clean the house can open a nap window for you.
Maintaining your health is good for you, the person for whom you are caring and others around you.
To learn more, read How to Be a Caregiver and Not Get Burned Out.