When it comes to caring for 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.
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