70 percent of healthcare workers said that since the pandemic, they were experiencing more trouble with sleep.
– Mental Health America (MHA) study
Being a caregiver is a role many of us don’t plan to take on, but we don’t always get a warning when it comes to being there for those we love. Life happens, and we rise to the call, often at the expense of our own rest and wellbeing. With over 43.5 million people voluntarily caregiving, and that number rising due to COVID-19, it is important to start the conversation around “caring for the caregiver” because self-care is more than taking a relaxing bath or doing yoga ―its self-preservation.
We recognize that caregiving requires compassion and immense responsibility and understand that it can take a toll on your mental, physical and financial health, but, we are also here to take time for yourself because your health matters too. In this guide, we will provide realistic ways to prioritize rest and wellbeing and detect early signs of burnout.
The relationship between caregivers and sleep is not always a positive one, but there are ways you can improve your sleeping habits and keep your mental health in check as you go through life’s ups and downs. But first, let’s go over just how significant sleep problems are among caregivers.
According to a multilevel analysis published in the BMJ, caregivers who work in healthcare are 1.5 times more likely to experience sleep problems compared to the general population, and this statistic came out before COVID-19 exponentially increased their workload even more. Those who care for loved ones at home have an unusually high prevalence of sleep disturbances as well.
Another meta-analysis found that those who care for people with dementia lost 2.42 to 3.5 hours of sleep each week due to difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep.
Sleep is essential to staying healthy and functioning in your duties as a caregiver. But it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep during the night when your mind is racing and your to-do list is piling up. Whether it’s taking care of your loved one’s needs in the middle of the night, changing your routine to accommodate the needs of the person you are caring for or dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that can come with caring for a loved one who is ill, there is a slew of reasons why you may not be able to sleep when your head hits the pillow at night.
Whether it’s taking care of your loved one’s needs in the middle of the night, changing your routine to accommodate the needs of the person you are caring for or dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that can come with caring for a loved one who is ill, there is a slew of reasons why you may not be able to sleep when your head hits the pillow at night.
As a result of not sleeping well, you may wake up feeling unrested and feel fatigued later in the day, creating this cycle of sleeplessness that can really affect your overall mental and physical health. While this pattern can feel never-ending, there are active steps you can take to addressing the quality and quantity of sleep you are getting.
While the pattern of sleepless nights can feel never-ending, there are active steps you can take to addressing the quality and quantity of sleep you are getting. Here are a few tips to get you started. We understand that getting enough sleep can feel like an impossible task when you are constantly prioritizing the health and well-being of others and are not here to diminish the challenge or sugarcoat the obstacles that may get in the way of a good night’s rest. But, we do want to remind you that according to research many caregivers experience significantly better sleep quality after behavioral interventions like therapy and other components of self-care such as the ones listed below.
Both you and the person you are caring for can benefit from a regular night and morning routine. So how do you establish a routine when your days seem out of your control? First, plan your schedule. Set a regular time for waking in the morning and write down chores that need to be done, such as helping your loved one wash and get dressed, and preparing meals for the day. Next, you will want to establish a nighttime routine focused on helping your loved one wind down. Finally, since life and caregiving can both be widely unpredictable be sure to allow enough flexibility in your schedule for when issues arise that derail your plans.
Unless you must sleep in the same room as your loved one, you should sleep in a separate room. Make that space your sanctuary that is both comfortable and conducive to sleep. It should be cool, dark, and relatively quiet, as well as free from anxiety-provoking stimuli. Your bedding should be comfortable and breathable and your mattress cushioning and supportive. If you need to keep an ear out for your loved one consider using a monitor.
From time to time, you may have difficulty falling asleep or wake during the night unable to fall back to sleep. When this happens, get up. That’s right, experts say that staying in bed when you cannot sleep only reinforces sleeplessness, physiologically and psychologically. Try reading, listening to music, or meditating until you feel sleepy again. What you don’t want to do is scroll through your smartphone, flip open your laptop or watch TV. Electronic devices emit blue light which boosts alertness and can keep you awake rather than putting you to sleep.
A sleep journal or diary is a place where you can record sleep and wake times as well as other information such as if or how often you woke up during the night and why, and how fatigued or refreshed you felt the next day. You can also record any unusual stressors or illness symptoms. Sleep journals kept over several weeks or months can help identify sleep disorders or other problems that may be addressed through medical or therapeutic intervention. Sleep journals are great options for you as well as for the person you are caring for.
Caregiver burnout is defined by the American Medical Association (AMA) as “a state of physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion that can create negative and unconcerned caregiver attitudes.”
Caregiver burnout can occur when we as caregivers don’t get the help and support they need and instead become overwhelmed with the demands of the person we’re caring for. Caregivers may suffer from fatigue and experience feelings of hopelessness, that if left unaddressed can make caring for a loved one extremely difficult.
Burnout can also lead to increased use of alcohol or stimulants as a way to ease anxiety, depression, and exhaustion which can adversely impact immunity and put caregivers at risk for illness and other health problems and, unfortunately, many caregivers are either unaware they are burned out or unwilling to ask for help.
According to the AMA, nearly 25 percent of caregivers who provide more than 40 hours of care per week report that their health has deteriorated as a result of their caregiving. More than half said their health has declined to the point that it has affected their ability to care for their loved ones. For all of these reasons, it is important to stop and access signs of burnout.
When caregivers are asked why they don’t take more time for themselves, the question is often dismissed as many people who are in this role don’t feel like they have the time or feel guilty taking the time to take care of themselves. But caring for yourself first is the biggest act of self-preservation you can do. You owe it to the person you are caring for as well as the others in your life to prioritize your rest and wellbeing. By doing so, you can be more present and more emotionally and physically available to those who need you.
Doctors, nurses, nursing home staff, daycare workers—essential workers who are heroically putting themselves at risk to care for others during this global pandemic—are just as prone to caregiver burnout as those who voluntarily care for loved ones. A Mental Health America (MHA) study surveyed more than 1,000 healthcare workers on the frontlines during COVID-19 about their emotional health. Researchers found that 93 percent said they felt the burden of extra stress, 86 percent said they were anxious, 77 percent reported feeling more frustration, 76 percent said they were exhausted and burned out, and 75 percent reported feeling overwhelmed.
– Mental Health America (MHA) study
In fact, according to another study involving healthcare workers during COVID-19, 90 percent of healthcare workers were getting less than the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, and a third admitted to getting just four hours or less. That lack of sleep is also taking a toll on work performance. One in three healthcare workers said they felt they’ve been making more mistakes at work.
Different people benefit from different coping skills. For example, meditation may be helpful to one person, but for another, it may be too difficult to quiet the mind and relax. “Find the coping strategies that work best for you and use them when you’re feeling stressed,” says Natalie Nageeb, PsyD, a psychologist in the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
–Natalie Nageeb, PsyD, a psychologist in the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
There are plenty of resources that provide support for caregivers. Here’s just a few:
Is back pain keeping you up at night? Looking for a mattress that will give you comfort, support and ease your chronic aches and pains? You're in luck! In this guide, we'll help you find the best mattress to provide pain relief and improve your sleep quality.
Read about the best mattresses for back sleepers, learn why choosing the right mattress is so important, and get exclusive discounts to ensure you are getting the best deal online.