As a 24/7 caregiver for her mother, my 52-year-old patient — I'll call her Becca — gets little rest. At night, lying on the couch next to her mother's hospital bed, she is jolted awake by her mom's frequent cries of pain and confused conversation with people who aren't there. During the day, she catnaps fitfully in the chair next to her mother's recliner as the TV blares. Becca jokes that the bags under her eyes have bags.
What's worse is that her health is being jeopardized by chronic sleep deprivation. She has gained weight, and her blood pressure and blood sugar levels are up. Fatigue makes her irritated with her mother and others. She operates in a constant brain fog, causing even minor household decisions to feel like monumental tasks.
Adequate sleep — generally seven to eight hours per night — has restorative powers. Too little sleep has been associated with increased appetite, higher rates of depression and anxiety, more frequent traffic accidents, memory problems and more. But a 2014 National Sleep Foundation survey found that 45 percent of Americans reported they had too little or poor sleep at least once in the previous week.
Many family caregivers, contending with their role's responsibilities and challenges, sleep even less than most — though it's so crucial to maintain your own health when you're caring for another. There are a few steps you can take to help yourself fall and stay asleep. Here are some ideas from our book AARP Meditations for Caregivers: