Some of you have been on high alert caring for others during a full year of pandemic worries. You have been physically and emotionally overtaxed and likely also chronically sleep deprived. “Sleep deprivation” means you are not getting enough sleep, which should be 7-9 hours a night for an average adult. It is estimated that 1/3 of all American adults do not meet that requirement, but I am guessing it is way more prevalent than that, especially since the onset of the pandemic. Sleep deprivation differs from insomnia or sleep apnea which are actual sleep disorders because insomniacs can’t sleep enough even if they have plenty of time and opportunity to do so, while sleep deprivation is often caused by not enough time available to sleep or poor quality of sleep. Sleep is so basic to our lives, but we often ignore it because we are simply too busy. That is a big mistake because chronic sleep deprivation can cause very harmful physical effects such as weakening the immune system, lowering sex drive, causing thinking issues, weight gain and even increasing risk of certain diseases.
It is not only caregivers who are suffering from lack of sleep these days. People over the age of 65 often have trouble sleeping because of aging, medicines they are taking, health problems, or stress. There are booming industries marketing sleep aid drugs, pillows, and fancy mattresses to promote better sleep. Not everyone wants to be dependent on sleeping pills or can afford the pricey bedding. Unfortunately, sometimes they must give in because they simply cannot function properly during the day without sleep.
Why are some people such good sleepers while others are lucky to string together a few hours at a time? The key is individual circadian rhythms, the 24-hour internal master clock in the brain which signals activity or rest to the body. The most obvious stimulus is light versus darkness. We wake up when it is light outside and retire when it is dark. We feel more dormant in winter with less light and more darkness. Relying on simple circadian rhythms does not work well when you work the nightshift or have frequent scheduling shift changes!
Here are some hints from the experts to help you sleep better naturally: Avoid late night meals or physical exercise. Cut down on caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Avoid electronics like tv, computers, and cell phone screens for at least one hour before bedtime. Adopt a consistent bedtime routine and sleep in a relaxing ( darkened and quiet) environment. A short nap in the early afternoon is ok, but avoid longer naps after 3 pm. Moderate daily exercise especially outdoors is recommended. Stress is a big culprit which keeps one’s mind overstimulated when it should be winding down. The author Anne Lamott writes: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” Take a look at our short Caregiver – Self Care videos. Make one of them part of your evening routine and please, get some sleep!
By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President
The Validation Training Institute (VTI) is a non-profit organization that advances knowledge, values, education and research rooted in the Validation method. The objective is to nurture respect, dignity and well-being in the lives of older adults experiencing age-related cognitive decline and their caregivers. Our vision for the future is that every older adult experiencing age-related cognitive decline, and their caregiver, can feel the joy and love of meaningful communication.