What are caregiver sleep problems?
Sleep problems include insomnia (the inability to fall or stay asleep), hypersomnia (problems staying awake), poor quality sleep, or inability to stay asleep. Sleep problems can change the way you think and feel. If you haven’t had a good night's sleep, you may feel tired, irritable, jittery, and/or depressed. You may not feel like doing anything - even things that are usually enjoyable.
Caregivers often have sleep problems. You may be getting up during the night to help the patient. Or, you may be staying up late to get things done. Depression, anxiety, or fatigue from caregiving can cause sleep problems.
What can I do about my sleep problems?
Here are tips for getting a good night's sleep:
- Settle for bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Use your bed for sleeping only. Don’t watch TV, use electronic devices, read, or pay bills in bed.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, comfortable, and at a consistent temperature. Try a radio, fan, or mood music to filter out noises.
- Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Consider alternate sleeping arrangements if you share a room with your loved one who you are caring for. You can arrange for a call system so the patient can reach you when needed. This may help you be at ease which may lead to better sleep quality.
- Try to organize your sleep around the patient’s schedule so that you can get uninterrupted sleep.
- Keep a sleep journal that includes what makes sleeping difficult, what helps you sleep, and how sleep problems affect your usual activities.
- Try listening to a relaxation tape at bedtime.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed. If you are hungry at night, try a light snack with warm milk.
- Coordinate help with caregiving.
- Stay active and get exercise during the day (but not right before bed).
- Take a warm bath an hour before going to bed.
- Try to deal with problems or worries during the day, and set them aside when you go to bed.
- Avoid using tobacco; nicotine is a stimulant.
- Avoid caffeine (e.g., coffee, colas, black teas, and chocolate) after 3 pm.
- Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.
- Try relaxation exercises or meditation before bed.
- Ask others to avoid calling or texting you when you’re usually asleep unless it’s an emergency.
- Set your phone for “Do Not Disturb” or “Sleep Mode” during times when you are asleep.
- Ask someone to give you a backrub or foot massage at the end of the day.
- If sleep medications are prescribed, take them based on your doctor’s instructions.
Here are some additional tips if you are sleeping too much (more than 12 hours per day):
- Avoid sleeping as a way to cope with boredom. Distract yourself with hobbies or other activities when you feel sleepy during the day.
- Avoid eating too many sweets, peanuts, and dairy products to make you sluggish.
When should I talk to my doctor about my sleep problems?
Talk to your doctor if you have:
- Overwhelming fatigue that persists beyond 2 weeks
- Frequent nightmares
- Confusion on waking
- Depression that persists
- Frequent waking during the night
- Inability to get back to sleep after waking
- Inability to carry out daily activities
- Sleep problems lasting longer than three weeks
- Overuse of sleep medication
- Chen, Q., Terhorst, L., Lowery-Allison, A., Cheng, H., Tsung, A., Layshock, M., ... & Steel, J. L. (2020). Sleep problems in advanced cancer patients and their caregivers: Who is disturbing whom? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 43, 614-622.
- Toygar, I., Yeşilbalkan, Ö.U., Malseven, Y.G., & Sönmez, E. (2020). Effect of reflexology on anxiety and sleep of informal cancer caregiver: Randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 39, 101143.
- Ravyts, S.G., Sannes, T.S., Dzierzewski, J.M., Zhou, E.S., Brewer, B.W., Natvig, C., & Laudenslager, M.L. (2021). Check your sleep before you start: A secondary analysis of a stress management intervention for caregivers of stem cell transplant patients. Psycho‐Oncology, 30(6), 936-945.