Sleep - The Often-Neglected Area of Self-Care for Caregivers

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Sleep isn’t a luxury. It’s a basic need, and one that must be fulfilled in order to maintain your mental and physical health. If you’re a caregiver, you know how you feel has a direct influence on how active you are in providing care to your loved one. However, if you’re like many in this position, you forgo sleep to cater to other needs, and when you do lay down to rest, your mind races, and your body refuses to just relax.

Here are some tips on how to settle yourself, as well as a few ideas on how to promote healthy sleep.

Understanding sleep

When you lie down for the night, your mind and body don’t instantly fall into a deep slumber. Instead, you move in and out of the series of four sleep stages. During stages one and two, which are considered light sleep, you may still feel as though you’re awake, and you may be jarred into alertness by muscle movements or outside stimuli.

During the final two stages, your vitals stabilize, and you will have a few short minutes where your muscles are virtually paralyzed. This is when sleep is most important, and it’s the time when your brain essentially processes your thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It is also when your body heals from everyday wear and tear.

An environment for sleep

If you have trouble reaching deep sleep, your environment may be to blame. Everything from excessively dry air to light can keep you up throughout the night. Evaluate your surroundings and eliminate factors that don’t lull you into slumber. This might include:

  • Climate/uncomfortable temperature. The National Sleep Foundation reports that your bedroom’s climate affects how you sleep. Excess moisture may leave you feeling hot and sticky. Air that’s too dry can wreak havoc on your nasal passages, which makes it tough to breathe. A small humidifier can add tiny bits of water back into the air so that you can breathe more efficiently. Keep plenty of filters on hand and change them often to prevent circulating any trapped contaminants or mold.

  • Noise. If you sleep in the same room or in close proximity to the loved one in your care, you are well aware that their movements, breathing, and other nighttime noises can perk up your ears when your head hits the pillow. Men’s Health explains that a set of earplugs can keep noise at bay. If you’re worried you won’t hear if you are called for during the night, keep in mind that even the highest-rated earplugs actually only reduce noise by about 16 dB; human speech is typically around 50 dB. You aren’t blocking all noise, just dampening it to the point where inconsequential sounds aren’t as perceptible.

  • Clutter. Clutter is not only unsightly and dangerous, but it can also burden your mind even further. And you’ve got enough to worry about already. Keep things neat and tidy, and your brain may have an easier time transitioning into a state of relaxation.

Once you have addressed environmental factors, you can take your quest for rest one step further by introducing a sleep-promoting supplement such as melatonin. Melatonin is, according to the Mayo Clinic, considered safe for most adults. And unlike prescription sleeping pills, which may put you in a state of complete unawareness to your surroundings, melatonin simply helps the body fall asleep, and stay asleep, when you need it most.


Being a caregiver is stressful, and it can affect you in many surprising ways, including triggering insomnia when you’ve never had sleep issues before. But ignoring unwelcome wakefulness isn’t going to make things better. You owe it to yourself, and your loved ones, to prioritize sleep. You will be a better caregiver and will be alert enough to make better decisions for both yourself and those in your charge.

Written by: Harry Cline, creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.