Caregivers don’t get enough sleep, there’s no mistaking that. When you’re living with an elder (and especially one suffering dementia), there are constant worries, rude awakenings and fears. For family caregivers, sleep is a luxury they often cannot afford – or think they cannot afford. The truth is, sleep is CRITICAL for your wellbeing and it needs to be incorporated into every caregiver’s routine.
Sleep deprivation in caregivers is common, and many quickly accept it as part of the job. But that sleep deprivation has dire consequences. Studies have reported that over two-thirds of caregivers sleep less than 7 hours a night, and even then many have their sleep interrupted. Those that are getting enough sleep are often faring no better as many induce induce sleep with the use of drugs or alcohol. Not sleeping regular hours is already a problem, but not getting enough quality sleep is also an issue.
You spend a third of your life sleeping… and to some people that’s a waste of time, but without sleep we would have no means of cleaning out toxins in our brains and regenerating muscle tissue. Sleep deprivation leads to premature aging, weakened immune system, weight gain, forgetfulness, and puts you at an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
In addition to all that, your reactions slow down, you become less alert, and you walk around with impaired judgment. Specifically, the National Institute of Health (nih.gov) considers sleep deprivation on par with alcohol intoxication – this is why, when you apply for a license, they tell you to pull over and take a nap if you’re suffering from a lack of sleep. 1 day without sleep is akin to having a BAC level of 0.05%. Any longer than that, and many subjects were recorded to have behaviors of those with a BAC of 0.10%. This is scary stuff, and especially when you consider the fact that we accrue a sleep debt.
A sleep debt is the number of hours you’d need to sleep to be fully recovered and back-on-track. So if you’re only getting 5-6 hours a night and not feeling the effects, it’s only a matter of time.
What makes sleep hard for caregivers is the fact that most of them are working other jobs. This means that even if their elder falls asleep (relatively) early, they still have work, bills, and a family to manage. It’s not easy and can also lead to apathy and depression – but that’s a topic for another time.
Fortunately, a 30-minute nap can significantly improve your wellbeing… but be careful not to do much more than that. Our sleep cycle works in a rhythm where certain time-periods will leave you feeling refreshed whereas others will lead to more exhaustion. It’s the REM sleep that rejuvenates you and that occurs at the 30 minute mark, but any more than that and you’ll need an hour and 15 minutes to reach your next REM cycle.
To ensure quality sleep, don’t have more caffeine after noon, and ensure that you make napping a part of your regular routine. You need to for your health; remember, you come first.