Caretakers consistently put the needs of others above their own. While spending time with and caring for a loved one has its rewards, any job that requires potential around the clock work can lead to high amounts of stress, depression, and anxiety.
The high emotional toll of caregiving often shows up in sleep loss due to stress. Adults need a solid seven to eight hours of sleep. Without it, emotional control, decision-making skills, and physical health can decline. By developing good sleep hygiene both caregiver and the person needing care can reduce stress and get the rest they need.
Signs of Caregivers Stress
Stress manifests itself in different ways for different people. Take these signs of caregiver stress seriously:
- Mood swings
- Feeling alone and isolated
- Sleep loss or sleeping too much
- Changes in weight
- Lost interest in activities
- Feeling worried or sad
- Body aches and pains
With stress levels rising, getting restorative sleep becomes more difficult yet all that much more important.
Why is Sleep Important?
As a necessary biological function, your body needs sleep to heal, regenerate, and restore itself. Sleep deprivation makes the brain slow down, which makes thinking and decision making more difficult. Lack of sleep also wreaks havoc on eating habits. When sleep deprived, the brain releases hormones in different amounts, which makes people feel hungrier when they’re tired and slows down the satiety response both of which can lead to overeating.
Sleep is essential for the immune system to fight off infection and disease. Sleep deprivation leads to inflammation, causing you to feel achy or sore. Being a caretaker gets increasingly more difficult as the amount of sleep goes down.
Better Sleep Hygiene
When you take the time to develop good sleep hygiene, all the habits that surround sleep, you not only help yourself but the person for whom you care.
- Regular Exercise: Exercise fights stress because it releases endorphins that make the body feel good. Not only that, with regular exercise, you’re stronger and better able to cope with a rigorous day. Exercise also helps to wear out the mind and body so it’s easier to fall asleep at night. If you have to, gradually bring exercise into your day. A walk around the block or at a local park may not take long, but over time, you’ll start to feel the effects.
- Increase Exposure to Natural Light: Caregivers may be nearly homebound, which often means many hours spent indoors. Circadian rhythms are highly affected by light, particularly sunlight. If going outside for a short walk isn’t an option, consider sitting on a front or back porch or sitting near a large window with maximum sun exposure.
- Establish a Regular Bedtime: To keep those circadian rhythms in check, go to bed at the same time every day, weekends included. Try to get up at the same time, too. Your body will naturally recognize when it’s time to go to bed and wake up long before you are ready to do either. With an established schedule, you can better follow your body’s signals.
- Consistent Bedtime Routine: Adults benefit from a bedtime routine just like children do. When the same routine is performed every day at the same time, the brain recognizes the pattern and regulates the body’s circadian rhythms That helps you start to feel sleepy at the right time every day.
Don’t forget to reach out to friends and family for an occasional break from caregiving. Taking time to rest and relax is important for physical and emotional health.
Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She specializes in sleep’s role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.