Why Lack of Sleep is So Dangerous for Caregivers

August 13, 2009 at 8:36 pm Leave a comment

Lack of sleep is dangerous for anyone–but caregivers are particularly prone to sleep deprivation.

My mother had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and she developed Sundown Syndrome–as the sun set, my mom got  perky. Perky isn’t the right word–agitated is more accurate. It made for some long and crazy nights. My mom was also in and out of the hospital, and each time our routine was disrupted, so was our sleep. Many, many days I walked around feeling like a zombie. Caffeine became my all day companion–from coffee to diet sodas, and many days were just a blur.

Why lack of sleep is so dangerous:

  • You’re most likely having to drive to get to doctor appointments and errands
  • Research has found that if you drive after being awake for up to 17 to 19 hours, you drive as if you are legally intoxicated–as if you have a blood alcohol level of .05 percent. The same study found that “16 to 60 percent of road accidents involve sleep deprivation.”
  • As a caregiver, you’re in charge of dispensing medication. The Institute of Medicine  reported that an  estimated that “44,000 and 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year due to preventable health care errors.4 Even greater are the numbers of preventable errors that do not result in death, but potentially lead to acute or chronic illness, injury, and/or disability.” Those are statistics for doctors and nurses–but as a caregiver, your risk of giving the wrong medication or wrong dosage is similarly high.
  • Your own health is at at stake. Five dangerous risks are directly related to sleep deprivation: obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and accidents. That’s quite a list. Personally, I found that I was using food to wake me up–I felt that if I ate something, I felt a surge–(most likely a sugar high), and it was comforting. I was snacking all day–and night. I gained close to 30 pounds in two years.

I can’t give a cure-all because sometimes you just have to pull the all-nighters, and it may take awhile to get you and your loved one’s sleep habits worked out–so what to do in the mean time?

Starter Steps to Better Sleep for Caregivers and Loved Ones:

  • Become a creature of habit. Put you–and your care buddy on a strict routine. Get up and go to bed at the same time. Make your bedroom dark. Don’t eat, watch television, or work on your laptop in the bed. Beds are for sleeping (and other fun stuff).
  • Get respite care help. Don’t try to care-give alone. Ask for help. Ask a neighbor to sit with your loved one so you can take a nap or take a bath. Arrange for respite to come for the weekend. I know you might not be able to afford to go anywhere, but can you afford not to? Is there any way for you to get away and have at least 24 hours to recoup? If you have a relative, insist they pitch in. Have them come to your house to watch your mom/dad, and you go sleep at their house. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask for help and expect to get it.
  • Give up being perfect. Opt for the nap rather than doing dishes. Don’t over-schedule your days. Be easy on yourself. If you lose your temper, say you’re sorry and let it go. Simplify your life and your schedule as much as you can.
  • Don’t neglect your own health care. Take those vitamins. Make your doctor appointments. I know you’re tired of all thing medical, but don’t put yourself last–go see your gynecologist, get that pap smear, see the dentist. Prevention beats winding up in the ER.
  • Hold on. It won’t last forever. Get help. Make yourself a priority. Find ways to have mini-breaks throughout the day. Laugh–or cry–as needed. Both a valid forms of release. Realize that you can only take so much, and one day, you may have to make a different care decision. Give your “future self” permission to do that when it’s time.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving, sundown syndrome. Tags: , , , , , .

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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