Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Better Night's Sleep

by Emily Anderson

Are you dragging around the house guzzling coffee just to be functional? Are you quick to anger, have little energy for your usual hobbies, or having trouble reining in your appetite? You might just be short on sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but if you're one of the many people getting 6 or fewer hours of shuteye, you might be going into sleep debt, leading to those feelings of grogginess and crankiness.

Caregivers have some particular challenges that can make getting a full night's rest challenging. Many caregivers find their sleep interrupted when they respond to a loved one's needs during the night, such as helping someone to the bathroom. Even if you don't have to get up, many caregivers feel like they sleep with "one ear open," listening for sounds of a disruption or a fall. Some people use the nighttime hours to catch up on other duties that didn't get finished during the day or to get some much-needed "me time." Finally, for many people, worries and "to dos" dancing in their heads keep them up long past lights out.

Generally, sleep problems fall into three categories: Trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and just getting too little sleep. The tips below will work to help you get back to a better sleep routine, but you can also use them to help your loved one get a better night's rest if needed.

Trouble Falling Asleep

1. Develop a wind-down routine. Whatever makes you feel calm and collected, make a habit of doing those things in the hours leading up to bed. Consider including some light tidying up, a caffeine-free tea, a chapter of a book, and hygiene practices like brushing your teeth or a warm face wash. Whatever you choose, it should be mildly stimulating to boring, not thrilling or anxiety provoking, like the latest installment of your favorite suspense novel.

2. Stay away from electronics and other bright lights. The blue light from TVs, phone screens, and computers can signal to your body that it's morning and time to rev up, rather than night and time to quiet down.

3. Deal with your worries. Many of us have trouble winding down because worries or tasks from the day are still lingering in our minds. Write down you worries or your to-dos and tell yourself that they will be there for you in the morning.

Trouble Staying Asleep

1. Assess what wakes you up. Are you hot or cold? In pain? Hearing a noise? Going to the bathroom? Make a plan to avoid those problems in the future, such as avoiding liquids 3 hours before bedtime.

2. Try a relaxation technique. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and repetitive prayers often work to quiet the mind and let you go back to sleep.

3. Stop thinking in bed. If your worries intrude, relaxation techniques aren't working, and you find yourself having trouble getting back to sleep, don't stay in bed for longer than 20 minutes. Get up, do something boring until you feel tired, and then try to go back to sleep.

Getting Enough Sleep

1. What's keeping you from just going to bed earlier? Maybe you need to delegate some tasks or accept the fact that not everything on your list will get done today. Many caregivers stay up to catch some quiet time they don't get during the day, which is enjoyable until it starts cutting into your sleep. If you choose to use the nighttime to relax, make sure it is quality relaxation--TV and mind-numbing phone games are often less rejuvenating than you think.

2. Take a nap. If all else fails, find some time to catch up on 15-20 minutes of rest during the day. Even if you can't sleep, a short period of deep breathing or sitting down can help you feel refreshed during the day.

To learn more about getting better rest, try the National Sleep Foundation's Lifestyle column!