Caregivers need sleep for one crucial reason: All humans must sleep, it’s a biological necessity. #Caregivers, however, may also have risk factors that increase the importance of getting enough sleep.
Current research suggests that toxins are removed from our brains while we’re sleeping. The risk of Alzheimer’s rises if the brain’s cleaning equipment can’t de-tox our neural networks. If you believe you might have inherited the gene for dementia, you have an even greater need to protect your brain’s health. In a University of Toronto study which included people who carried the APOE-E4 gene, participants who “slept most soundly showed the greatest preservation of memory and thinking skills. Among study participants who died, the poor sleepers were more likely to exhibit the characteristic brain plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Like many #caregivers I get up at night to attend to my mom. I wake in the wee hours, walk to her room, and change her. If I’m lucky, the process goes smoothly and I can crawl under the covers and slide back into the dream waiting at my pillow. But I’m not always lucky. If I pinch my arm in the bed rail or remember some annoying task that should have been done, I’m suddenly wide awake and far from slumber. Few things more aggravating than lying awake when you know you need rest.
Ideas for Caregivers who need Sleep
I have a few tools that can help me fall back to sleep. They are not 100% foolproof but they help.
- Sometimes I use a very simple yoga posture called Child’s Pose. You sit with your face down on the floor and your arms out in front. Here’s a photo. This position is very relaxing and I often feel like I might fall asleep with my face in the carpet.
- You can try to relax by doing a Forward Bend. Just sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and reach for your toes. You don’t actually have to touch your toes, just aim in that direction with your face looking toward your legs. Click this link to see an example.
- If I’m concerned about missing sleep for several nights, I use a relaxation CD called Relax into Greatness about one hour before bed. This recording explains that there is a difference between sleep and relaxation. Sometimes we can fall asleep but our body is not relaxed. If we’re not relaxed, we may not enjoy that nourishing level of sleep we need. The guided meditation on this CD relaxes you head to toe. When I listen to it before bedtime, I fall into deeper sleep and wake up really refreshed. This is especially good for people with chronic insomnia or PTSD.
Of course there are nights when none of these things work. If you have some effective methods of getting back to sleep, please share them so other #tired caregivers can benefit, too!
You are more than a caregiver! Unfortunately, I had almost forgotten that motto. I haven’t written much in the past month. My house was accumulating dust. The garden sat untended. I was so overwhelmed with #caregiving responsibilities that I found myself neglecting important matters.
Last year, when I moved my mom back into my house I wasn’t sure what to expect. Doctors had been discussing hospice and I was really afraid she would die among strangers. Bringing her home again felt like the right choice. I could not foresee how much my own life would change. I wanted last summer to be special. I wanted Mom to enjoy the sounds of birdsong on the porch and feel nourished by good home cooking. I didn’t plan further than that.
After we moved her, Mom got stronger for a while. Then she got weaker. I went from being able to manage her hygiene alone to needing another support person. Now we rely on a rotating group of helpers who pop in when I have to take her to the bathroom, or make sure I can get out to go to the bank. My household is like a carousel that keeps spinning. But in the process of managing everything for my mother, I’ve been quietly losing bits of myself.
How #Caregivers Lose Ground
In recent months I stopped finding time to do things that matter:
- I wasn’t taking my walks. I used to go out almost every day for at least 20 minutes. The weather’s been nice, so there’s no excuse. I just let daily walks slip out of my routine.
- My personal writing projects were shoved to the back burner. Pieces I’d been working on for months started to seem unimportant. Somehow they never got finished.
- Mom now needs two people to lift her instead of one, so I can’t leave the house for more than two hours unless there are two aides on duty. My response: I stayed home more and lost time spent with friends and my sweetheart Mike.
I could blame my mom, but I let this happen without noticing the subtle ways things had changed. I’m getting a grip on the wheel again and I can see how even a modest lack of discipline can result in losing track of yourself. Somewhere along the way I stopped fighting the rising tide of responsibility.
Now I see that #caregivers must fight that tide to keep our lives from getting swept away in it. I have to schedule my walks on the calendar if I’m going to take them. In terms of family health, my walks are as important as my mother’s doctor’s appointments. I have to fight the temptation to do so much for others when the itch to write gets strong. Those unwritten pages haunt my dreams. Time with friends is essential, too. I need to take the initiative to make sure I get those social breaks.
Being a #caregiver is hard. We’re forced to make many sacrifices. Our silver lining is a rare, prolonged glimpse into the heart of human experience. If we pay attention, we can learn patience and humility — essential qualities in this crazy world! But we walk a tightrope every day. Without balance, we fail ourselves.