Sometimes sleep and caregiving don't seem to mix. With a packed schedule, being pulled in a million different directions by elderly parents, kids, jobs and all of the other things that constantly demand your attention, who has time to sleep? And when you do find the time, you toss and turn, your mind races and you lie awake. Does this sound familiar?
Experts say many people unknowingly establish "bad sleep habits" as part of their daily routine…and some of these practices could be keeping sleep away. A lot of things can come between you and a good night's sleep. You can, however, start establishing better habits so you can consistently get quality sleep.
Find your sleep number
First, figure out how many hours of sleep a night will make you feel rested in the morning. You know you're getting enough sleep if you don't feel sleepy during the day. Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Don't try to make it up
If you aren't getting enough sleep, you can't "make it up" by sleeping late on the weekends, for instance. Once it's gone, it's gone. Sleeping longer on certain nights or frequent napping will only inhibit your ability to get a good night's rest the following night. By trying to make up sleep, you are sabotaging your chances of consistently getting a good night's sleep.
Get on a schedule…and stick to it
Staying up later on the weekends is equally as damaging as trying to make up sleep on the weekends. Our bodies need a schedule…a consistent routine. Try to go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, allowing for the amount of rest you calculated, even on weekends. If your bedtime is 10 p.m. during the week, stick to that same time on the weekends.
Get your parent on a schedule…and stick to it
Just like your body needs a routine, so does your elderly parent's. Set a schedule that you can stay close to every day. We set a routine and schedule for our kids as they were growing up, so try to do the same for elders. For kids and elders, a routine is comforting, predictable and encourages feelings of safety and relaxation. Make breakfast at about the same time every day. Schedule dinner, bath time, a relaxing pre-bed activity and bedtime for the same time every day.
Don't misuse your bed
Use your bed for two purposes only: sleep and sex. If you continually use the bed for activities that are not conducive to sleep, like reading, watching television or eating, you may be tempted to pick up a book or reach for the remote when you should be settling down for sleep.
Turn off your mind
Worrying and constant stress are often the culprit of a sleepless night. Sometimes, your thoughts race and it seems impossible to "turn off your mind" long enough to fall asleep. Relaxation techniques, practiced on a regular basis, can help. Get in the habit of relaxing before you head to bed. Some techniques to try: a hot bath, gentle music, meditation or prayer.
Create a comfortable environment
Being comfortable is a key to good sleep. Light, sounds and interruptions can interfere with slumber. Keep your bedroom dark during sleeping hours (room darkening curtains work wonder.) Reduce noise levels as much as possible. If traffic or noisy neighbors are a problem, to cancel out distracting and jarring sounds, try a bedtime alarm that has "white noise' settings: waves, rain, bird sounds or whatever background noise you find soothing. Sound Machines allow you to ease into sleep with white noise. Keep your room at a temperature that's not too hot, and not too cold. Get a comfortable mattress and bedding.
Coffee, soft drinks, tea and anything with caffeine should be avoided from the late afternoon on through bedtime. Caffeine may be a great energy booster for you during the day, but in the evening, it can keep you awake or make your sleep restless.
Cut out alcohol and nicotine
A glass of wine may make you sleepy and help you get to sleep faster, but alcohol often wakes you up after a only a couple of hours of sleep. The same goes for smoking. Though smokers often feel like it calms them down, nicotine is a stimulant.
Don't eat or drink before bedtime
Our bodies use food and drink as sources of energy, so consuming them when you should be winding down for the night can interrupt sleep. In particular, spicy foods, tomato products and high-sugar snacks are known to cause sleep problems.
Exercise is crucial for good health, but trying to squeeze in a workout once the kids and parent is in bed makes it more difficult to sleep. Physical activity that raises your heart rate gives us rejuvenation and extra energy, which is great during the day, but not so good when bedtime approaches. Exercising too close to bedtime can cause difficulties falling asleep.