We’ve all had those sleepless nights in which we toss and turn, look at the clock and feel stressed that we aren’t going to get enough sleep. When you are caring for someone else–whether it’s a toddler, sick relative or someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s even more important to get a good night’s sleep.
There are plenty of studies linking poor sleep to a host of physical and psychological ailments: poor immunity, elevated levels of cortisol and insulin, weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. And irritability, foggy thinking and anxiety, depression and low energy can directly impact your ability to care for another person, do household chores and get in the way of your interpersonal relationships.
Here is a list of things to try when you are stressed, your mind is on overload, or when you’ve just had too much stimulation and can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.
Good sleep hygiene is the first step to improving your sleep.
- Refrain from drinking caffeine after 1:00 pm.
- If you need to visit the bathroom during the night, limit your fluid intake after dinner.
- Do not resort to alcohol to help you sleep. It usually impairs sleep, and you might wake up with a headache.
- Try valerian, passion-flower or skullcap herbal tea at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
- A cup of warm milk with a small pinch of cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin, and an 1/8 of a tsp of ghee is a tasty and relaxing bedtime drink. The calcium in the milk is a muscle relaxant and the Indian spices help induce relaxation. Experiment to see which spices you like.
- Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This is difficult for most people so it will take some effort. Instead, listen to soothing music or read a relaxing book.
- Do not watch the news or listen to the radio with current news before bed. World and political events can be upsetting and unsettling.
- Make your bed as comfortable as possible. Cotton sheets are usually more comfortable than synthetic. Is it time to replace your mattress? When is the last time you turned it over?
- A cool bedroom is usually more conducive to sleep than an overheated room. On the other hand, feeling cold will not help you sleep, either. If you feel cold at bedtime, warm up some neck wraps in the microwave and place them in your bed so it’s toasty when you get in. Then when you feel warm and are starting to fall asleep you can throw them on the floor. Or, warm up your bed with a heating pad. One of my favorite thing to do is to put on pajamas that have been heated in the clothes dryer for 5 minutes.
- Get black out curtains. It’s easier to sleep when there is no light coming through the windows.
- Eat a banana. Bananas contain potassium and magnesium that help reduce risk of muscle cramps. These two minerals also support heart health and cognitive function.
- A drop in blood sugar during the night can cause us to wake up. Although it’s better to not go to sleep on a full stomach, a small protein snack such as a slice of cheese or smear of peanut butter on a cracker can help maintain balanced blood sugar.
- Exercise during the day to get your heart pumping and to maintain overall health. Just don’t do it too close to bedtime because you will get energized.
- Go to sleep when you get sleepy but make sure it’s before 11:00. According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healthcare system, it’s best to be in bed by 10:00.
- Melatonin supplements help some people, but you might have to experiment with the dosage. I like Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm, a powdered calcium supplement that you put in water or juice. I also like the homeopathic remedy Hyland’s Calms Forte.
- Use ear plugs if it’s noisy in your neighborhood. Again, you might need to experiment in order to find the product you find is most comfortable.
As a caregiver you probably think of yourself last. But it’s crucial that you take care of yourself because if you don’t, it will be able to take care of your loved one(s). So take the time to experiment. Promise yourself that you will put an emphasis on trying to improve your sleep. You will notice a difference right away, and so will everyone in your life.
Good night, sleep tight!
“Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn contains a treasure trove of information on how to stay connected with your loved one, keep calm, improve immunity, reduce stress and feel happier and healthier. Plus, it includes 20 healing modalities that the caregiver can do alone or with their loved one. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.