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!
Researchers in two different parts of the world — India and Finland — have been conducting studies to see if occupational therapy and hands-on hobbies improve quality of life for dementia patients. The group in India studied more male patients. The one in Finland studied women. Both found improved responses among patients who spent time engaged with different hands-on activities.
Considering these two research projects together, it seems that it can be very beneficial to keep dementia patients busy with activities that involve both their minds and their hands. Here is a laymen’s explanation of this work.
The study in India was led by Prakash Kumar and his colleagues. They used a scale developed by the World Health Organization to complete a Quality of Life Assessment among dementia patients. Then they had a group of participants (80.5% male) engage in a structured program of activities that included:
- Relaxation for 10 minutes which involved alternately tensing and releasing different group of muscles
- Physical exercises for 10 minutes aimed at maintaining strength, mobility, circulation and general health
- Personal activities for 15 minutes which included general care of nails, teeth and hair — and household tasks such as arranging bed sheets, gardening and counting currency.
- Cognitive exercise for 20 minutes included reading, solving picture puzzles, drawing, and clay color activity
- Recreational activity for 10 minutes such as viewing television, playing indoor games, table games, quizzes, Chinese checkers, telling stories, singing, and participating in organized social events.
The researchers wanted patients to do activities that stimulated their physical, functional, behavioral, psychological, and cognitive skills. After five weeks in the program — with two 70 minute sessions per week — patients showed significant improvement in physical performance, sleep quality, and energy for activities of daily living. The Quality of Life surveys also showed that patients had a greater appreciation of life and reduced negative feelings like anxiety and depression.
In the Finnish study, Sinikka Hannele Pöllänen and Reetta Marja Hirsimäki, conducted reminiscence sessions with older women in residential care who had severe symptoms of dementia. These same women enjoyed doing crafts as a leisure activity earlier in their lives. The researchers conducted three reminiscence sessions using different kinds of handicrafts to trigger memories and offer stimulation. Activities that combine several different senses (such as smell, touch, and taste) stimulated verbal reactions, better attention and nonverbal communication among the patients. In this group, the most interesting triggers also succeeded in stimulating the recall of forgotten, pleasing experiences related to doing crafts.
Both of these studies help to make the point that it’s important to try to keep loved ones involved in doing things that combine the work of hands and mind. This isn’t always easy — apathy may make them want to give up before they start. It’s also true that when one is busy cleaning the house, cooking, or doing other essential work, it’s hard to find time to organize an activity for someone with dementia. But if you can make the time, it may be worth the effort to get them involved in a hands-on project that stimulates them during the day, and promotes calmer evenings (and better sleep!) for all.