Sunday, March 15, 2009

Getting Enough Sleep...?

This past week has certainly been one of diminished sleep for me!
Between the advent of this year's Daylight Savings Time, an out-of-town workshop with a time zone change, an overnight visit with an old friend, and seeing my goddaughter off on Spring Break at the airport at 4:15 this morning, my sleep debt, (the difference between the amount of sleep we need and the amount of sleep we get), is pretty high. The bad news is that this sleep debt is cumulative. The good news is that a few consecutive nights of full, uninterrupted sleep will usually return us to full functioning.

How do we know when we're sleep deprived? Sleep researchers say that our sleep latency tells the tale. In other words, if we are well rested, we will make the transition to sleep within 15 - 20 minutes but if we're sleep deprived, we will fall asleep in less than 5 or 10 minutes. (Or as soon as our heads hit the pillow, as the saying goes.) Other ways of taking stock include asking ourselves if it is hard to wake up in the morning, if we wake refreshed or tired, if we run out of energy by late afternoon or how long we sleep if we don't have to wake up.

Most adults need 8-9 hours sleep each night but many of us average around 7 hours with the result that we have more accidents, we're more prone to infection, we make more mistakes at work, we lose concentration, short term memory and IQ points and we are less resilient to stress. 

When we add to this the effects of long term professional shift work or 24/7 family
caregiving, we have the potential for serious physical and mental health problems and a diminished ability to care for others safely.

In,  The Little Book of Stress Relief,  Dr. David Posen, MD, suggests that we:

*  Assess how much sleep we're getting currently & how much we need to function well.

*  Go to bed half an hour early for a few nights and see what happens.

*  Then add another half hour for a few nights.

*  Keep adding to your sleep until you wake naturally, feeling refreshed.

*  Sleep in an hour or two on weekends if you run a deficit during the week.

If you are working extra long shifts because there are not enough staff or if, as a family caregiver, the idea of getting more than a few consecutive hours sleep any night makes you laugh, (or cry), things might not be so easy. You might need to summon help or actually get away regularly in order to meet this most basic of needs.

Can you ask a friend to take your children after school so you can sleep til dinner time when you're working night shift? Can you renegociate your care aide allotment? (During the last year of my husband's illness, I traded 120 hours of daytime care aide help for 2 or 3 nights of RN coverage a week and that saved my sleep and my sanity.) Can you ask a family member to watch things at your house while you go to theirs' for a nap? Can you arrange to go away for a weekend for the sole purpose of catching up on your sleep? Brainstorm with others in similiar situations to find outside-the-box ways of catching an extra 40 winks. It will make all the difference to your mood, your energy and your perspective.



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