[title text=”Guest blog by Sasha Carr”]
For caregivers, late nights and early mornings can be common and sleep is often a precious commodity.
Likewise, the burdens you face may leave you staring at the ceiling when you actually do get a chance to turn in. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many caregivers experience sleep difficulties and naturally look for different ways to reclaim the rest they so dearly need. Sadly, some common strategies we turn to when chasing sleep can do more harm than good. Avoiding these common traps can help prevent chronic insomnia and other more serious problems.
[title text=”Here are the top 5 mistakes you’re likely to make when trying to avoid a sleepless night:”]
1. Drinking alcohol.
After a long, difficult day it can feel relaxing to unwind with a glass or two of wine. Likewise, people who start having trouble falling asleep at night you may find that a nightcap helps them nod off more quickly and easily. However, while alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, it actually disrupts sleep during the second half of the night, leaving you feeling more tired and less rested in the morning.
2. Taking over-the-counter sleep aids.
The most popular drugstore medications like Nyquil, Unisom, and pain relievers with “PM” on the end of their name are all sedating antihistamines. Like alcohol, many of them will interfere with your sleep in the early morning hours. Likewise, using either alcohol or sedating antihistamines long-term can lead to tolerance, meaning that their ability to help you fall asleep diminishes over time. As a result they can actually make even falling asleep more difficult in the long run.
3. Falling asleep in front of the TV.
There’s no doubt that watching television can help distract us from the worries of the day, and some find it has a calming effect. But the blue light generated by televisions, computers, smartphones and any other type of lighted screen has been shown to negatively affect sleep. If you’re having trouble getting the rest you need, try shutting off all screen devices a full 60 minutes before bedtime, and read a book (or non-lighted reading device) or listen to some relaxing music instead.
4. Exercising in the evening.
You have my deepest apologies if caregiver responsibilities leave no time for any exercise, period. Exercise is a wonderful tool for improving mood and can even help you sleep better, as long as it’s done at the right time. If you can make time for it, try to get moving in the morning or at least 3 hours before bedtime.
5. Going to bed too early OR too late.
For a caregiver sometimes late nights are unavoidable, but burning the midnight oil to do things that could be left for tomorrow may backfire because it causes your body to release cortisol, which can make your brain have difficulty falling asleep even when your body is exhausted. On the other hand, some caregivers may be tempted to crash extra early when given the chance, especially if their loved one is asleep. This can also backfire by causing you to wake in the very early morning, setting off a process in which your body gets out of synch with its natural sleep rhythms. Understanding that you may not always get to choose your bedtime, the more often you can get to bed no less than seven and no more than nine hours before you’re going to need to get up, the better.
Now that you know what not to do, what options do you have when sleep eludes you?
Aside from the sleep boosts of exercising earlier in the day, reading a relaxing book in the later hours instead of watching TV, and doing your best to get to bed at a reasonable time, try creating a regular bedtime routine. It needn’t be long, and could include things like a quick bath or shower, applying an aromatherapy body lotion, or reading from a book of meditations. Whatever you choose, making it a nightly ritual will help condition your body and mind to settle down for the night.
Sasha Carr Ph.D is a licensed psychologist and certified child and family sleep coach dedicated to helping people of all ages have healthier sleep. She is a co-author of The Caregiver’s Essential Handbook, which provides practical advice for elderly caregivers. For more information about Dr. Carr, please visit her website at offtodreamland.com