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Energy Boosters for Sleepy Caregivers

Make it through the day — and keep doing all you do — with these helpful strategies

En español | If you're a caregiver experiencing sleepless nights, then you know that "no sleep" means you may feel physically and mentally drained in the morning. As a result, it can be challenging to face and deal with your loved one's needs, not to mention your own. Your first thought may be to get a quick energy boost with a cup of coffee, tea or another caffeinated beverage — but the caffeine won't keep you going all day.

Here are some healthy ways to help you get through your sleep-deprived day and still feel good as you care for your loved one.

1. Avoid quick-fix snacks

When your body is sleep-deprived, it craves carbohydrates and foods high in glucose or sodium. Snack foods like cookies, doughnuts, candies, crackers and chips taste good, but are just a quick, short-term energy fix. Ultimately, your body experiences a letdown. Likewise, eating too much of these foods is simply not healthy and can lead to an unwanted weight gain — so steer clear of these tasty snacks. Instead, eat an apple, orange, banana or a handful of nuts to satisfy your hunger and provide energy in a healthy way.

A woman enjoying a glass of cold water

Mild dehydration can reduce your energy and cause weariness. — iStockPhoto

2. Eat small, healthy meals

A large, calorie-rich meal can make you feel sleepy and sluggish. Try eating several smaller meals throughout the day, and be sure to include high-protein foods. Protein provides and sustains energy for a longer time than simple carbohydrates.

Consider enjoying one of these smaller, lighter meals:

  • Low-fat peanut butter spread on celery and apples
  • Scrambled egg whites served with a side dish of fresh fruit and whole-wheat toast
  • Tuna salad topped with lettuce and tomato on whole-wheat bread or pita
  • A cup or smoothie of low-fat yogurt mixed with blueberries or strawberries

3. Don't overdo caffeine

When you're tired and know you have many daily chores to do for your loved one, it may be tempting to double or triple your daily amount of caffeine. Unfortunately, it's likely this increase will keep you awake when it's time to go to sleep. Instead of upping your caffeine quotient, stick with the amount of caffeine you normally drink during the day, followed by a good night's rest.

4. Grab a nap

Napping is healthy. Studies show that an occasional short snooze may decrease a person's risk of coronary heart disease. If you can, make time for a nap. But be sure another person is present in your home to care for your loved one, particularly if he or she has special needs that require constant attention.

5. Refresh with a cold shower

While a soothing, hot shower may sound good, it can leave you sleepy. Instead, take a quick, cold shower or wash your face with cool water. This refreshing and revitalizing break can make you feel better all over and ready to take on your next caregiving task.

6. Walk for 30 minutes

A brisk walk can physically and mentally recharge you. It brings fresh, oxygenated blood to your muscles and organs, boosts your metabolism and lifts your spirits. This added energy can help sustain you throughout the day.

7. Drink water

Water is essential to your body's good health. Fifty-five to 60 percent of the average body is made up of water. Drinking water throughout the day protects you from dehydration. Mild dehydration (as little as a 1 to 2 percent loss of body water) can reduce your energy and cause weariness, making caregiving responsibilities even more challenging.

8. Stay safe

After a sleepless night, you should also recognize that you may have some limitations. Avoid activities that could compromise your safety and that of your loved one, such as:

  • Driving — especially for long distances. Driving is dangerous when you're tired. So if you need to take your loved one to a doctor's appointment or pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, you may want to reschedule or ask a friend for a ride.
  • Drinking alcohol — don't! It can make you even sleepier and compromise your caregiving duties.
  • Smoking — once again, don't! Many household fires are caused when someone falls asleep while smoking.

9. Plan ahead

Keep these survival tips in mind when you know you'll have to pull an all-nighter.

  • If you work outside the home, ask your boss if you can come in late the next day.
  • If you have children, ask if a neighbor can watch them. This can give you a few hours of relief before you have to stay up all night.
  • Arrange for another person to provide caregiving services to your loved one the next morning.

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