Today's topic is sleep. Or, in the case of most caregivers, lack thereof. This was one of the very biggest issues for me, in trying to manage as a caregiver -- there was generally never enough sleep, and what there was tended to be poor quality, oft-interrupted, causing me to generally awaken feeling tired. Not a good way to start the day!
I found that I slept very lightly, in order to hear when I was needed if my mother awakened and got out of bed, which happened quite often. I imagine other caregivers struggle with this same problem. One trick I learned was to place her walker right up next to the bed so that she couldn't get up without using it. As soon as I heard it's particular noise, I was immediately alert and up.
There are a few tried and true remedies for sleep -- I think I've tried them all. Well, that's not true, actually. I never used any prescription sleep aid because I was afraid it would knock me out to the point I wouldn't awaken if I needed to do so, and because they are incredibly addictive. Neither of those seemed like a good idea.
So, here are the old remedies, time honored and tested through the centuries. I figure the reason they are still around is that they work.
Note: You can use these on yourself, and, in most cases, they are safe for your loved one as well, but I'm not giving medical advice -- you should, of course, check with your loved one's doctor to make sure there is nothing to contraindicate them.
1) Warm milk at bedtime -- this one really does work. You can add a drop of vanilla extract for flavoring, or a little bit of honey or cinnamon. Just a small amount can soothe and adds L-tryptophan which makes you sleepy.
2) Lavender aromatherapy -- this is a nice, easy bedtime ritual that can aid sleep. A drop of pure lavender essential oil on a cotton ball tucked into your pillow case, or a spritz of lavender mist on your pillow can bring on sweet dreams. Orange oil also works for this purpose.
3) Melatonin -- There are a number of products on the market with melatonin. The one I prefer is Schiff's Melatonin Ultra which provides 3 mg of melatonin, theanine, GABA vitamin B6 & calcium. I really like that it doesn't leave me with a sleep "hangover", and I still am sleeping lightly enough to wake if needed. That's a real plus for a caregiver. Again, check with your doctor (or your loved one's) to make sure this won't interfere with other medications.
4) Chamomile tea - There are many different combinations or blends of chamomile tea available from your grocery store or health food store. My fave is Sleepy Time. But, I think they all work pretty well.
5) If noise is a problem, and because you need to be available you can't wear earplugs, try a white noise generator, or, even better, a HEPA filter air purifier. The noise generator makes a whooshing sound, sort of like ocean waves -- some have multiple selections for the sounds. The HEPA filter -- I recommend Austin Air if you are looking for the best (I've had mine for 15 years, running 24/7 and never a problem)-- has a dual function in that it creates some white noise while at the same time giving you clean, pure air.
If you want more information about good sleep habits, you can read Deepak Chopra's book, Restful Sleep, for a whole host of ideas to make sleep more rejuvenating and easier to experience. I found many of his ideas helpful and still practice some of them.
There you have my helpful hints for a better night's sleep, while still being there for your loved one -- sweet dreams!
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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