Carers Program
Carers Program

Sleeping Well

Sleep difficulties are a common problem for Carers. For example, not enough sleep, trouble getting to sleep or waking up during the night unnecessarily. For Carers, loss of sleep causes tiredness, stress and difficulties coping with the things Carers do daily. When working Carers don't get enough sleep, it can impact on the quality of their work as well. Sleep difficulties can be managed and are treatable.

If you have sleeping problems it is good to know ways that will help you get to sleep so you can use this information to change sleeping patterns.

Our sleep-wake cycle is influenced by the day-night cycle and our daily routines. Our circadian rhythm is our body's internal clock that covers a 24 hour cycle. It helps ensure our body makes the right amount of chemicals and hormones and that our metabolism is refreshed while we sleep. For most people, seven to eight hours sleep a night is best for good health. It's a bit like computers scheduling 24 hour maintenance tasks and updates.

Sleeping difficulties can be caused by:

  • A poor sleeping environment
  • Being unable to unwind (anxiety)
  • Daytime napping - when you've had a bad night's sleep it's tempting to catch up with a nap the next day but for someone with sleeping problems this can interfere with night time sleep. Research suggests you should only nap for a short time 30 - 45 minutes maximum
  • Taking common stimulant drugs such as caffeine and nicotine
  • Night time drinking - drinking alcohol may help you relax but too much makes it harder to stay asleep AND lessens the quality of your sleep
  • Bladder problems
  • The effects of ageing

Improve Your Sleeping Environment

  • Make your bedroom darker - A light room will make it harder to sleep. Use dark curtains or blinds to block light from outside such as sensor lights, street lights, moonlight or early morning sun. You could also try wearing an eye mask.
  • Reduce Noise - noisy neighbours, air conditioners and traffic can stop you getting to sleep. Closing windows and doors or wearing earplugs can help with this. If a family member keeps you awake snoring, encourage them to lose weight and or cut back on alcohol if this is needed. Sleeping on their side can also help. Visiting a GP to make sure snoring is not a sign of sleep apnoea is also a good idea.
  • Keep a comfortable temperature - being too hot or too cold also affects how well you sleep

Make Up a Bedtime Routine to Help You Wind Down
For those with difficulty sleeping, watching TV, listening to music, reading a good book, or having conversations about worries in bed may get in the way of associating bedtime with drowsiness and sleep rather than being awake and alert.

If, after 20 minutes in bed, you find you still cannot get to sleep, try leaving the bedroom and doing something boring or relaxing until you feel sleepy again. If sleep is difficult for you, use this chart as a reminder:

A

lcohol, caffeine and nicotine should be avoided

S

leep and sex should be the only uses of the bed!

L

aptops, TV and paperwork out of the bedroom

E

xercise regularly but not within two to three hours of bedtime

E

arly rising - avoid sleeping-in or daytime naps

P

lan for bedtime - by making a bedtime routine

Try a wind down routine that includes quiet, relaxing activities before you go to bed and be ready to change it rather than dump it if it doesn't work at first. Some of the following ideas may help:

  • 30 minutes before you go to bed drink:
    • Warm milk with honey
    • Valerian or another decaffeinated tea
    • Chamomile tea (but not if you are taking an anti-coagulants such as warfarin)
  • Foods such as milk, bananas, honey, turkey, and tuna contain tryptophan (an amino acid), may help you get to sleep. Try eating a small amount of these foods or a small banana-honey milkshake before bed-time.
  • Encourage your body to relax by practicing:
    • muscle relaxation
    • breathing exercises
    • simple stretching or
    • listening to music (if this is relaxing for you)

You can sit quietly in a chair or move around - doing daily practice of something at the same time can help you develop a regular habit.

  • Set a specific time for going to bed (AND waking up) - it's good for kids and adults too.
  • Put a drop of lavender oil on your pillow, or pyjamas, or a few drops in your bath - the smell has a calming effect

Meditation Regularly using ways of relaxing such as meditation at any time of the day can really help with sleeping problems. But to master something like meditation you need to practice them. Common ways to start are:

  • Repeating a sound (A mantra)
  • Focusing on breathing
  • Focusing on an object (e.g. A painting, tree, or candle)

Often you can combine different focusing techniques for the mind. e.g. as you focus on breathing in and out you can also count 1, 2, 3, 4. Or you can swap this to chant "calm" or "relax" to yourself. You can teach yourself meditation or you can attend a class and learn in a group from an experienced teacher - your local library or community/neighbourhood centre may have information about suitable classes. There are also a wide range of mobile apps that you can download which can assist with meditation.