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And the Best Substitute for Sleep Is…

Actually, there IS no substitute for sleep!

Ironic, isn’t it?  Some of the things that make us better caregivers are the very things that are in short supply because of caregiving. One glaring example of this is sleep.

We don’t need research to prove that sleep deprivation causes problems with reflexes and decision making. What happens when we become too sleepy to continue driving to our destination?  Hopefully, we immediately recognize the potential dangers and have the wisdom to pull over and take a nap!  No driver wants to fall asleep at the wheel and drive off the road or into oncoming traffic.

Although a caregiver’s role may impose a packed schedule that makes it difficult to get enough sleep, caregiving under the influence of sleep deprivation can produce consequences that are equally costly.  Imagine trying to make good decisions about your loved one’s finances or long-term care—let alone attempting to manage a complicated medications regimen—when you are too sleepy to focus.  And not only is your loved one directly affected by your sleep habits; research shows that people who sleep fewer than six hours per night for an extended period are at higher risk for serious physical conditions, including stroke and insulin resistance.

Recommended guidelines for establishing good sleep habits for optimal health and function are provided by The Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

  1. Try to get a minimum of six hours’ uninterrupted sleep, and wake up at the same time every day.
  2. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine.  Read a book, listen to soft music, meditate, and avoid stimulants such as coffee, chocolate, and nicotine.
  3. Never watch TV, use the computer, or pay bills at bedtime—or in the bedroom at all (reserving the room for sleep).
  4. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. A fan or earplugs can drown out excess noise, and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
  5. Get into bed only when you’re tired. If you’re not asleep within 15 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing.
  6. Regular exercise improves sleep, if limited to mornings and afternoons.  (Your doctor is the one to recommend safe and appropriate exercise for your needs.)
  7. Frequently looking at the time can create anxiety and make it even harder to sleep, so turn the face of your clock away from you (then you won’t have that unpleasant experience of waking up in the night to realize that only a couple of hours have passed since the last time you were awake).

If the above are not effective, tell your doctor.

Sufficient, quality sleep is not a luxury—it’s a necessity!  For your own quality of life and the safety of your loved one, make getting a good night’s sleep a priority.