Mr. Sandman Bring Me a Dream: Elderly Caregiver’s Guide to Sleep

Elderly Caregiver’s Guide to Sleep

Caregiving can an extremely difficult job, and it can get even more difficult if you don’t get the sleep your body requires. Sleep is important to maintain the function of your brain and body so that you can take care of not only your needs, but the needs of your senior care receiver as well. Unfortunately, lack of sleep is a common problem among many caregivers in the United States. A study from JAMA Network found that, “Caregivers lost 2.42 to 3.50 hours of sleep each week due to difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep.” (1)

When you are concerned about the well-being of your loved one, it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep for a variety of reasons. Whether your mind is racing worrying that they may get up and fall, or they wake you because they need help, it can be draining to try to keep up with it all.

If you lose too much sleep, it may lead to caregiver burnout. Cleveland Clinic defines caregiver burnout as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.” (2) If you want to avoid caregiver burnout, use these caregiver tips to get a good night’s rest.

Tips To Get More Sleep as a Caregiver

1. Create a Routine

Humans thrive using the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is a process that includes physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. (4) Generally, we are awake when the sun is up and sleep when the sun goes down.

When you create a routine for your body to follow, you will naturally get tired, which will help you sleep better. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. It is also useful to create a bedtime routine that will help your mind register when it is time to sleep. Your bedtime routine can include brushing teeth, applying facial creams, reading a book, or cuddling with your favorite pet.

If you lay in bed for a while and still cannot get to sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and perform some sort of other relaxing or low-energy activity. Avoid lying in bed when it is not time to sleep. This can help your brain associate the bed with sleep and help you get to sleep faster.

2. Make A Comfortable Bedroom Environment

Your bedroom should be the most comfortable place in your home. When you have a safe and comfortable place to escape to at the end of the day, it can help you relax and improve your sleep. Try to keep your bedroom clean and use comfy pillows, blankets, and sheets to make your bed more inviting. If you are remodeling at all, choose calming colors for the walls such as beige, light grey, a pale blush, or a pale blue-green color.

3. Avoid Using Screens before Bed

SCL Health states, “The blue light emitted by your cell phone screen restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm).” (5) Avoid using your smartphone or tablet about a half hour before you plan on going to sleep. It may also help to keep your phone away from your bed so that you are less tempted to check it. If you are concerned about missing a call, change the settings so that it only rings when certain people are calling. If you are concerned about an elderly loved one who does not live with you, consider getting them a medical alert system.

This assistive device for the elderly provides 24/7/365 access to an emergency response agent who can help your senior through a variety of emergencies. When they press the panic button, they will be instantly connected with the agent who will help keep them calm and follow protocols to get them the help they need. They will also stay on the line with your loved one until someone arrives to help them.

You may also want to consider a fall detection device for seniors as this emergency alert system can automatically contact an agent when it registers a fall. This is especially useful if you are caring for elderly with dementia or another condition that may prevent them from pressing a button.

4. Avoid Caffeine

Caffeine stimulates your heart, brain, and nervous system. When this happens, it is difficult to sleep peacefully. In a study from the Journal of Clinical Sleep and Medicine, “Caffeine reduced sleep efficiency by 5%, prolonged sleep latency by 12-16 min, and reduced total sleep time by 25-30 min.” (6) With this in mind, you should avoid consuming caffeine six hours before bedtime.

5. Give Yourself Time to Relax Before Bed

If you run around doing chores and errands right before bed, it can be hard to sleep because your blood is pumping. Try to give yourself a half hour to an hour to calm down before bedtime. You can relax in your favorite chair and watch your favorite television show or listen to some soothing music. When you are calm and relaxed before bed, it will be easier to fall asleep quickly.

6. Try Stress-Relief Techniques

If stress from your caregiving responsibilities is making it difficult for you to fall asleep at night, try using some stress-relief techniques. You can even incorporate them into your bedtime routine so that you have a more peaceful mind when you head to bed. Some useful techniques you may want to try include:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Visualization Exercises
  • Gentle Physical Exercise
  • Journaling
  • Taking a Warm Shower or Bath

7. Try Taking Melatonin

Another technique you may want to try is taking melatonin. According to Wellesley News, “1.3 percent of U.S. adults (3.1 million adults) reportedly used melatonin pills to help them fall asleep.” (7) Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone that can help maintain a healthy sleep cycle. You can get supplements at your local pharmacy or vitamin store.

However, it is worth noting that Melatonin can make you drowsy during that day so you should not take it if you need to drive or perform any other activity that requires focus. You also should not take melatonin if you have an autoimmune disease. If you are unsure if Melatonin is a good sleep solution for you, consult your doctor.

8. Take Sleep Where You Can Get It

When you are a family caregiver, you may spend most of your time making sure that your loved one gets the care they require. If you have more than one care receiver, whether you are caregiving for two elderly parents or even children, it can be very difficult to find time for yourself. Therefore, you will need to catch sleep when you can get it. This can be very tricky to do as many people cannot fall asleep on command. However, if you notice an opportunity to take a nap and you feel tired, be sure to take it.

If you are concerned about your loved one getting up while you take a nap, consider ordering a wireless medical alert necklace with fall detection. This emergency response solution includes a fall detection sensor that will automatically contact an emergency response agent when it registers a fall.

9. Go Back to Sleep

If you live with the senior that you are taking care of, they may wake you up in the middle of the night for a variety of reasons. Family Caregiver Alliance reports, “Varying studies have documented that approximately 70% of caregivers for people with dementia report sleep problems, 60% report sleeping less than 7 hours, and 10-20% use alcohol to go to sleep and/or sleep medication. In data collected by the California Caregiver Resource Centers, 41% of caregivers said they are awakened during the night by the care receiver. (8)

If your loved one wakes you in the middle of the night and you have trouble getting back to sleep, try to relax the best that you can. Avoid looking at the clock if possible as it can prompt your mind to worry about your lack of sleep. If you can’t sleep within 20 minutes, get up and try to do an uninteresting activity. Alternatively, you can try visualization techniques and think about a happy scenario that can soothe you until you fall asleep again.

10. Get a Bed Alarm

One thought that may be keeping you awake as a family caregiver is the thought of your loved one getting up out of bed in the middle of the night and falling. If you are in this situation, a bed alarm may give you some peace of mind. A bed alarm is a pad that your care receiver can lay on. It will sound an alarm when it registers that there is no longer weight on it. The alarm can prompt you to check on your aging parent or spouse.

11. Get a Medical Alert Device

A senior life-saving alert system can also provide you with peace of mind that your loved one can quickly contact an emergency response agent for help whenever and wherever they may need it. If they mainly stay at home, an in-home emergency alert system will allow them to contact an emergency response agent anywhere within a 600-foot range of the base unit.

On the other hand, if your senior loved one enjoys getting out of the house during the day, you should consider a mobile communication alarm device or a medical alert wrist watch. You can also add fall detection and a GPS. These features can be exceptionally useful if you are caring for an elder with dementia or any other conditions that cause them to wander or become disoriented.

A personal alarm button is a very reliable and convenient way for your loved one to get the help they need. It only takes a button press to connect with help. There is no need to crawl to a cell phone, find the right contact, or remember any numbers. It also provides protection around the clock. Your loved one won’t have to worry whether anyone is awake or available to answer their phone. An emergency response agent will always be standing by to assist.

12. Consider Respite Care

If you simply lack the time to sleep and need to take a day or two off, you can also consider respite care. Respite care offers caregivers support and will provide a professional caregiver to take care of your loved one temporarily so that you can catch up on rest. It is worth noting, however, that respite care can charge by the hour, day, or week and it may not be covered by insurance. However, if you find yourself in a bind, respite care can be a valuable caregiving solution.

Benefits of Sleep

Sleep provides you with a variety of benefits that help you take care of your daily responsibilities and be a good care provider for your loved one.

1. Energy and Function

Like any animal, plant, or machine, you can’t function at a high level 100% of the time. You need to take a break regularly. This is what sleep is for. Sleep provides a chance to conserve energy so that you can function properly the rest of your day. According to Healthline, “Research suggests that 8 hours of sleep for human beings can produce a daily energy savings of 35 percent over complete wakefulness.” (3) When you sleep and conserve this extra energy, you will have more momentum to fulfill your caregiving responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking, and running errands.

2. Cognitive Functions

Sleep also gives your brain a chance to process information you took in during the day and perform other necessary functions to maintain your mental wellbeing. It fosters your ability to learn, focus, make decisions, remember things, formulate new ideas, and process emotions. All of these abilities are crucial for family caregivers as they must perform important tasks not only for themselves, but for their loved one as well.

3. Improved Health

Sleep boosts your immune system by bolstering T cells that help fight off diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. This means that the better sleep you get, the less likely you are to get sick. This is an important fact, especially when you don’t want to pass viruses to your loved one who may have a compromised immune system.

Sleep also gives your body a chance to repair organs, tissues, and blood cells. This can keep you feeling better overall, and help you avoid fatigue or caregiver burnout.

4. Mood

Sleep is essential for stabilizing your mood. It provides your brain the chance to process emotions so that you can organize your thoughts and make decisions during your waking hours. Good rest will provide you with more patience and a better mood to deal with the challenges of caring for a loved one.

Get the Sleep You Need

Sleep is crucial for anyone, but especially for family caregivers. If you aren’t getting the sleep you need to function properly, it is important to make time to find solutions that work for you. If you try different solutions and still have trouble sleeping, consult a doctor for more advice. When you get enough sleep you will feel better, be more productive during the day, and be a better caregiver for your loved one.


1 Gao, Chenlu, MA. Chapagain, Nikita Y. BS. Scullin, Michael K. PhD. Aug. 2019. Neurology. JAMA Network. Sleep Duration and Sleep Quality in Caregivers of Patients With Dementia A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

2 Cleveland Clinic staff. n.d. Disease & Conditions. Cleveland Clinic. Caregiver Burnout.

3 Nunez, Kirsten. Lamoreux, Karen. July. 2020. Health. What Is the Purpose of Sleep?

4 National Institute of General Medical Sciences staff. n.d. Fact-sheets. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Circadian Rhythms.

5 SCL Health staff. n.d. Mind. SCL Health. Why It’s Time to Ditch the Phone Before Bed.

6 Drake, Christopher, Ph.D. et al. Nov. 2013. New Research. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed.

7 Deary, Emma. April. 2019. Sports and Wellness. The Wellesley News. Melatonin Supplements Spike In Popularity — But What Are The Actual Benefits?

8 Family Caregiver Alliance staff. n.d. Resources. Family Caregiver Alliance. Seeking That Elusive Good Night Sleep.