How sleep loss can affect caregivers
Each day seems to give half the amount of time required to do twice the amount of work, which can induce the feelings of powerlessness and chronic fatigue suffered by many caregivers.
According to the College of Psychiatry of Ireland, 55 percent of caregivers suffer from sleep deprivation and it is a growing problem. It can affect a person physically, mentally and emotionally. Feeling exhausted is the most common problem, which can stifle anyone’s motivation and energy levels. Even the smallest everyday task can take on a daunting aspect.
Impaired coordination is another common effect. Hand-eye coordination, decision making ability and a high level of attention are required to carry out the duties of a carers. Studies have shown that the likelihood of an accident happening increases tenfold when the person in question is suffering from sleep deprivation.
Blurred vision is yet another by-product of sleep deprivation. It can lead to feelings of haziness from time to time, which may further demotivate you to the point where you become incapable of doing anything.
A sleep-deprived person might also experience general discomfort, such as feeling uncomfortable in his or her own skin, or tense, irritable and anxious. Being denied vital rest can lead to a weakening immune system, which means that the body is not functioning properly. As immunity falters, the body’s ability to fight off viruses and bacteria lessens and the tendency to fall ill increases.
The physical effects of sleep deprivation also have an impact on the brain. A 2007 study from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Berkeley, explains that sleep loss leads to irrational emotional behaviour. ‘Sleep appears to restore our emotional brain circuits’ according to Matthew Walker from the University of California, Berkeley, ‘and in doing so prepares us for the next day’s challenges and social interactions. Most importantly, this study demonstrates the dangers of not sleeping enough. Sleep deprivation fractures the brain mechanisms that regulate key aspects of our mental health. The bottom line is that sleep is not a luxury that we can optionally choose to take whenever we like. It is a biological necessity, and without it, there is only so far the band will stretch before it snaps, with both cognitive and emotional consequences.’
How to improve your sleep
The NHS in the UK has conducted several studies in this area. Their general advice focuses on caregivers caring for themselves as well as for others, using the following guidelines:
Establish fixed times for going to bed and waking up. This initiative, over time, will impact on your quality of sleep.
- Reading as a method of relaxing before bed is strongly advised.
- A quality bed in a comfortable sleeping environment can help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Getting more exercise can help your physical and mental health but it is important to not exercise within four hours of sleeping.
Things to avoid include:
- Long naps during the day. However, some research shows that napping can help if does not exceed 20-25 minutes.
- Consuming caffeine, nicotine and alcohol within six hours of going to bed
- Eating a heavy meal late at night
As sleep deprivation is such a serious problem. Making these small changes could have a big effect on your quality of life.
By Paul Cantwell