Good sleep habits for carers
If you are caring for someone, idea of getting a good night’s sleep may sound like a pipe dream. However there are lots of small things that you can do to make difference. Developing some of these good sleep habits will help you sleep better so you’ll be more rested and ready to deal with your daily caring commitments . . .
1. Get out into the daylight
You may be so busy, that getting out into the daylight is low on your priority list. However, daylight is vital for sleep. It aids cortisol production, which in turn increases the brain’s serotonin production. Cortisol gives us energy; serotonin helps us feel better about ourselves. Serotonin converts into melatonin after 12 hours or so and it is melatonin that makes us sleepy.
2. Have an evening routine
We need to let go of daytime activity and embrace pre-sleep routines that help calm body and mind. Think about whether your evenings are very varied or whether you have a routine. Do you think the way you spend your evenings influences your sleep?
3. Consider what time you eat
It takes 4-6 hours for your stomach to digest a meal. Heavy meals take longer to digest than light ones. Some people choose to have their main meal early in the evening and a small snack just before going to bed – make sure it is not a chocolate biscuit though as chocolate contains caffeine!
If you are awake in the night, avoid snacking as this could train your body to wake up because it expects food. You could have a soothing drink instead – try herbal teas such as chamomile or peppermint, or warm milk.
4. Consider what you drink in the evening
The more you drink in the evening the likelier you are to need to get up to the toilet during the night. If this bothers you consider gradually moving more fluids into the daytime and having less in the evening. Be aware that alcohol and drinks with caffeine disturb sleep.
5. Reduce light and noise levels as the evening wears on
Low intensity lighting aids melatonin production and reducing noise helps reduce brain stimulation and promote calmness. The advice is that TVs, phones, laptops and kindles should be turned off an hour before bedtime as they emit blue light, which prompts alertness. You can get blue light filters to reduce the light component, but you will still be exposed to the noise.
6. Consider relaxation strategies you can use if you are awake in the night
You may need to get up in the night to help the person you care for. Sometimes it can be difficult to fall back to sleep. Some people use relaxation techniques, other people find it helps to get out of bed after 15–20 minutes and do something calming in a different room. It can also help to simply lie in bed and accept that ‘sleep will come when it’s ready.’
7. Waking up at the same time each morning
As someone who cares for a family member or friend you may well be practising this good sleep habit. While we might all crave a lie in, actually they can be very disruptive for subsequent sleep. Day time napping will also disrupt sleep as each of us has a 24 hour sleep need, so if we doze off while watching the news the time we spend asleep at night will be reduced by this amount.