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Don’t Lose Sleep as a Parkinson’s Caregiver: Part Three

In part one, we addressed secondary sleep problems and strategies for getting nighttime assistance so you can get more and better sleep. In part two, we highlighted ways to manage daily schedules to preserve your sleep quality, then embarked on a journey into that nebulous region known as sleep hygiene. In part three, we focus on the realities of caregiver burnout, with sleep-related tips for its prevention, and take a look at mindfulness.

Caregiver burnout: The sleep connection

According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors that lead to caregiver burnout include the following (with possible links to poor sleep):

  • Gender:Menopause is associated with sleep problems
  • Less education: Working multiple jobs, odd hours, or overtime, can threaten sleep
  • Living with your PD loved one:Sleep is disrupted when you care for someone with PD
  • Social isolation:Loneliness at bedtime might disturb sleep
  • Depression: Depression causes poor sleep, and poor sleep causes depressio
  • Financial difficulties: A major force behind bedtime’s racing thoughts
  • Nonstop and/or unpaid caregiving: Fewer hours are spent asleep due to caregiving
  • Coping and problem-solving challenges: Effects of sleep deprivation
  • Involuntary caregiving: Powerlessness fuels sleeplessness

Caregivers: Heroic, not superhuman

Being a PD caregiver seems to require superpowers. Perhaps your greatest talent will be in recognizing when you’ve overspent yourself, or knowing when to ask for help.

Recognize burnout

Check out these sleep-related signs of burnout.

  • Anxiety: Insomnia and fragmented sleep caused by a racing mind signal a need to address anxiety.
  • The short fuse: It’s hard to be compassionate when you’re feeling angry, agitated, or irritated. Caregiver feelings (frustration, impatience, resentment, guilt) build up, only to spill into your sleep time, or are a consequence of not getting enough sleep.
  • Physical exhaustion: Your body may literally feel bone tired, with stress trapped in muscles, joints, and organs. Exhaustion reveals itself as flare ups of certain conditions (such as arthritis, migraine, or colitis) or negative health changes (hypertension, insulin resistance, mood swings).
  • Mood swings: Feeling sad, low on energy, hopeless, or unmotivated leads to poor sleep, caregiver burnout, or changes in health status. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.

Consider these sleep-friendly tips to prevent burnout:

  • Accept help: Learn to ask for it, and be open to accepting offers. Ask for help, even if it’s only to let you sneak in a nap or sleep soundly every other night.
  • Stay positive: No one can do it all perfectly. Take credit for your successes, however small (and mention them in your gratitude journal). Attitude, blended with self-forgiveness, makes sleeping easier, knowing you did your best.
  • Be realistic: Say no to all that doesn’t help you help your loved one, and yes to things that restore your well being. Respecting limitations can frame decision-making that improves life balance, which includes sleep!
  • Find support: Look for community resources, such as caregiver support groups, workshops, and classes focused on PD. Peer support offers friendships, education, tip sharing, empathy, problem-solving strategies, and compassion from those who’ve “been there.”
  • Use services: Temporary — sometimes free! — practical services can lighten your load considerably. Seek out help for meal preparation and delivery, transport to and from appointments, and simple housekeeping, and use these opportunities for restorative naps.
  • Spend time with friends: Reach out to those who understand and support you emotionally. Grab coffee with them, chat on the phone, or take a stroll. Having healthy friendships relieves stress and improves your chances for more and better sleep.

Mind your mindfulness

The act of giving of oneself in unsustainable without intentional self-replenishment. Mindfulness means living with intention, being smart about how you spend your energy. Check out these mindfulness best practices:

  • Practice relaxation: This can happen in brief moments day or night - a quick yoga session, sitting still and counting breaths, or full-on meditation - even progressive muscle relaxation. You can do this just about anywhere, even in a waiting room or sitting in the car.
  • Savor hobbies: Reading, knitting, gardening, listening to music, or engaging with an adult coloring book allow you to focus on one easy task in a meditative state.
  • Don’t rule out family leave: The Mayo Clinic suggests that “nearly 60% of caregivers work outside of the home. If you work outside the home and you're a caregiver, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. If you do, think about taking leave from your job for a period of time. To help care for relatives, Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about options for unpaid leave.”
  • Address your own sleep problems: An undiagnosed sleep disorder is an untreated one, with higher risk factors for chronic illness. Tend to your sleep issues now; you’ll be a healthier, happier caregiver later.

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