If you’re a carer, you may be having broken nights or not enough sleep. The occasional disturbed night you can probably keep going the following day but if it becomes more of a pattern, then everything will seem harder. A longer term lack of sleep will cause damage to your physical and mental health, so it’s important to make sure you get the rest you need.

When you go without sleep you may find that you are constantly tired, go to sleep during the day, have trouble concentrating and making decisions, and start feeling depressed. The physical side of effect of long-term lack of sleep may see an increase to your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

It can often be difficult to get a good night’s sleep, especially if the person you care for needs help or disturbs you in the night. Then there are the extra pressures caring can bring, such as money worries, emotional worry, isolation, and having no time to yourself.

All of these can contribute to stress, which can make it hard to get to sleep and keep you awake at night. Talk to your GP if you have trouble sleeping, as they can give you advice to help with this.

There are things you can do to help make it easier to sleep and to improve the quality of your sleep:

  • If you have trouble sleeping don’t go to bed too early.
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable – not too hot, cold or noisy.
  • Unless you know you are going to be disturbed during the night, try not to snooze during the day.
  • Try not to work or have your computer or TV in your bedroom.
  • Get some regular exercise – swimming and walking are ideal – but try not to do this too near to bedtime as it may keep you awake.
  • Take a look at your mattress. It should be firm enough to support you comfortably, but not so firm that you feel perched on top of it. You should try to replace your bed every 10 years so that it maintains maximum support and comfort.
  • Try to cut down on tea and coffee in the evening.
  • Try not to eat or drink a lot late at night – have your evening meal earlier if you can.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. It may help you fall asleep, but makes you more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Spend some time relaxing before you go to bed – a warm bath may help. There are many different relaxation techniques. You could try tapes and books available in your local library or you could join a class.
  • Try to keep a regular pattern of going to bed and rising at the same time every day, even if you are not tired.
  • Keep a notepad by your bed so that if you are worried about something, you can write it down and be ready to deal with it the next day.
  • If you still cannot sleep, try not to lie there worrying. Get up and do something you find relaxing like reading, watching TV or listening to quiet music. After a while you may feel tired enough to go to bed again.
  • Complementary therapies such as massage or aromatherapy can be a good way to relax.

Time for some help?

If the reason you are not getting much sleep is because you are being disturbed throughout the night or that you keep waking to check on the person you care for, then it might be time to look for some more help caring.

Is there someone in your family or within your friends who could take over your caring role as a one-off or perhaps more regularly? Friends and family may not realise you are having disturbed nights or how the lack of sleep is affecting you. You may be able to involve a few other people in caring overnight which can give you a break and a good night’s sleep.

If there is no-one who can help there are paid care workers that can sleep at your home overnight and prevent you being disturbed. If you and the person you care for haven’t been assessed by adult social care, it is worth having an assessment first as this might become part of your support plan and there may be some funding available. You should also contact Carers Matter Norfolk on 0800 083 1148 to check you are claiming all the welfare benefits you are eligible for.

Assistive Technology

If you are not getting any sleep because you are worried you won’t wake up for the person you care for, there is assistive technology that could alert you if they need your help. You may sleep better if you know that you will be woken if you are needed. This type of equipment does not rely on the person you care for doing anything to activate it. Instead it will go off automatically if needed. The Assistive Technology team can look at things such as alarms that will tell you if someone has fallen over, is having a fit, gets out of bed or goes through a door. In Norfolk the assessment for this type of equipment is free, and many of the gadgets are available on free loan.

To speak to someone in more detail call Norfolk County Council on 0344 800 8020 and ask for a referral to the Assistive Technology service.