Are you tired right now? Nearly 58 percent of Canadians say they often feel groggy and in need of more sleep. And, 55 percent of women say they have sleep issues. Somehow, our culture sees sleeplessness as a badge of honour as we tote around our ever-growing coffee cups.
Sleep is crucial to good health. Without sleep, we become more susceptible to health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression. “The foundations of good health are good diet, good exercise and good sleep, but two out of three doesn't get you there," said Dr. Anne Calhoun, a neurology professor at the University of North Carolina.
Diet, exercise and sleep all have their challenges, but it seems sleep is always under attack. Aging can also cause sleep changes and complications. If you are a caregiver for an elderly loved one, it is likely both you and your loved one are experiencing changes and challenges in your sleep patterns.
Sleep and the Canadian Caregiver
Most Canadians will find themselves in a caregiving role around mid-life, exactly when our bodies start to be less efficient at sleeping. For women, menopause and its physical symptoms can affect sleep. For both men and women, our bodies are less able to adapt to challenges imposed on the sleep-wake cycle. Jet lag at 45 is a very different experience than jet lag at 25. As a caregiver, you will need to ensure sleep is a priority to help you manage the physical and mental work of caregiving.
Sleep and the Canadian Senior
Seniors who are the recipients of care will also face sleep challenges. Our bodies naturally tend to need less sleep as we age, and our sleep and waking rhythms move earlier, leading to earlier bedtimes and earlier wake times. Waking during the night is also more common for seniors. All of these changes lead to a tendency to nap during the day.
When to Talk to a Doctor
The prevalence of sleep disorders starts to increase significantly in our forties. Older individuals are more susceptible to sleep disorders. Here are some disorders that can present themselves in later life.
Sleep apnea syndrome: Sleep apnea results in repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. The brain is cut off from oxygen briefly, and the person with sleep apnea wakes repeatedly through the night.
Periodic limb movements: Limbs move involuntarily in the night, which causes repeated wakings.
Restless legs syndrome: People who experience restless legs syndrome feel an overwhelming urge to move the legs because of discomfort. This leads to repeated wakings and disrupted sleep.
REM behaviour disorder: Also referred to as “sleep walking,” REM behaviour disorder results in abnormal muscle tone during REM sleep, allowing people to act out their dreams. This can be dangerous at all ages.
If you or your elderly loved one experience any of these symptoms, please talk to a doctor.
How Can We Get Better Sleep?
You may not have a sleep disorder, but you may not be getting the best quality sleep possible. Here are eight recommendations to help you get good quality sleep and feel more rested every day.
- Adopt a regular sleep-wake cycle. It seems like a good idea to sleep in on the weekends, but it is better to be consistent and nap when possible.
- Don’t look at the clock. Looking at the clock if you wake up in the middle of the night could cause you to feel anxious about falling back to sleep.
- Keep naps to no more than 30 minutes. Napping during the day can detract from night sleep.
- Wind down before bed. Take a bath, meditate or read a book for an hour before turning in.
- Turn off all technology and stay away from screens an hour before bed. The blue light mimics daylight and will trick your body into waking up.
- Keep your room dark and cool. Use blackout blinds or a sleep mask to make the room as dark as possible and bring a small fan into your room.
- Exercise, but not too close to bedtime. Expending moderate to strenuous energy during the day can help you sleep at night.
- Cut back on or eliminate caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant that can disrupt sleep. Try to limit caffeine intake to before noon only. Alcohol seems like it makes us sleepy, but alcohol consumption can lead to night wakings and poor quality sleep.
The most important thing to do to have better sleep is to make sleep a priority. Did you answer “yes” to the question “Are you tired right now?” If so, please take steps today to improve your sleep.
As a family caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself so you can better take care of your loved one. Respite care provides family caregivers the opportunity to spend time with other friends or family members, run errands, get to the doctor or the gym, take a vacation, get a haircut or simply relax. If you’re ready to take the break you deserve, contact your local ComForCare Home Care for a no obligation in-home consultation. Together, we can help you and your loved one life the best life possible.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published June 20, 2017. It has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.