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If you find it hard to get enough sleep make sure you find support that can help.

You may find it hard to get enough sleep if the person you care for wakes up during the night. Or you may find it hard to switch off if you are worrying about them. Lack of sleep can be a significant problem if you look after a disabled child, someone with dementia or some who has fits. 

You may want to:

  • Have a carer's assessment as this can look at how much sleep you get and may be able to help paying for overnight paid care workers.  
  • Talk to your GP if lack of sleep is affecting your health.
  • Get in touch with your local carer services. They may be able to offer you support and give you a chance to talk to other carers who are in a similar situation. Some local carers' centres offer workshops to help carers with sleep.

Get help overnight

Could some else take over your caring role overnight; either as a one off or more regularly?

Friends and family may not realise how lack of sleep is affecting you. If there is no one who can help there are paid carer workers that can sleep at your home overnight so that you can get a good night's sleep.

In England and Wales Carers Trust works with many quality assured partner services who provide care in the home where a paid, trained carer support worker takes over the caring role.

The needs of both the carer and the person they care for are assessed and regularly reviewed to ensure the service is tailored to the needs of them both. This is available to people of all ages, and with a range of disabilities and health conditions. This is a paid service.

Find local care and carer services. There are also other companies that supply paid care workers.

Telecare equipment that can wake you if needed

There are many telecare systems that could alert you if the person you care for needs help.

You may sleep better if you know that you will be woken if you are needed.   These include alarms that can tell you if someone has:

  • fallen over, or
  • had a fit (it monitors movement), or
  • got out of bed or gone through a door.

Telecare does not rely on the person you care for doing anything to activate it. Instead it will automatically go off if needed. 

You can discuss telecare during your carer's assessment to see if it could help you and the person you care for.  

Ways to sleep better

Exercise

Exercising every day can really help, even if it's only 15-20 mins. Ideally this should be in the morning and outside. Exercising shortly before bed can cause problems getting to sleep.

A good guide is counting steps, lots of smartphones have the ability to do this or you can use trackers or pedometers. 7,000 -10,000 is a good amount to aim for to start with.

Food

Plan when you eat and what you eat so that you avoid eating a heavy meal late at night and you make healthy choices.

Drink 

Stay hydrated. Avoid stimulants such as tea and coffee (caffeine) in the afternoon and opt for herbal teas in the evening. (E.g. green tea).

Increase your water intake slowly to let the body adjust so you don't find yourself on the toilet every 5 minutes! Avoid drinking too much late in the evening as this may cause you to wake up.

Alcohol

Avoid alcohol. When you drink a lot of alcohol you get dehydrated and this can affect your sleep and your B vitamins levels. Although it may help you unwind initially it has a high sugar content which can impact your body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels. 

Medication

Sleeping tablets are generally not a long term answer to sleep problems as they may not solve the root problem and you may find the quality of sleep is not the same. Speak to your GP about this. 

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in response to light and dark, it regulates our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). It is possible to boost levels naturally by being outside in the day light and avoiding artificial lighting in the dark.

It helps you wind down and get ready for sleep. You could also eat foods that can increase melatonin - tart cherries, pineapple, bananas, oats, tomatoes, kiwi and goji berries.

Bedtime routine

Have a bedtime routine where you aim to go to bed at the same sort of time every day. Work your way backward from that time and allow yourself at least an hour and a half to unwind.

This could include a bath, reading a book, meditation, stretching, deep breathing or listening to music. Avoid the TV, screens, phones and Facebook!

  • Light - avoid light when you are trying to sleep, black out blinds can work wonders. Also avoid clocks, if you have one turn it away from you.
  • Music- you may prefer silence but many people find music or an audiobook soothing.
  • Bedding - clean cotton linen and if it's dried outside there's nothing better. A supportive pillow and good mattress.
  • Temperature - your bedroom should be slightly cool, not hot.
  • Note book and pen - for if your brain gets busy and you don't want it to, write it down! This allows us to note thoughts down and then let go of them.
  • Book - a good read is a tonic for the soul and again if you wake it can be a great way to nod off again.
  • Glass of water - to save you getting up.
  • Essential oils - lavender can be put on a hanky near your pillow or a diffuser. Avoid artificial scents and burning candles.
  • Apps - such as "Headspace" offer a 10 minute meditation which can help your brain unwind. The first 10 days are free so you can try it and see if it works for you.
  • Breathing - close your eyes and breathe in through your nose for a count of 7, hold for the count of 2, then breathe out through your mouth to the count of 11. Don't get too hung up on the numbers, it's just a guide. Do this three times and see how you feel. You might feel a little light headed at first, but hopefully your shoulders will have dropped and you should feel more relaxed.
  • Tense and feel - lying in bed tense you toes for 5 seconds then relax, carry this on up your body, a section at a time, and acknowledge how you feel. With any luck this will help to reduce any tension.

Find more information at The National Sleep Foundation.  

Thanks to Sue Judge (Nutritional Therapist Dip CNM BANT, www.suejudge.co.uk) from Bath and North East Somerset Carers Centre for helping us write this page.

Next update due: June 2017