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February 22, 2017

Caregivers Need Sleep Too: How Little Sleep Affects the Heart

It’s safe to say that once your children were grown you thought you would get a good night’s sleep. Then you became a caregiver for an aging loved one and the sleep deprivation became part of your life once again. Caring for an aging loved one is a full-time job and one that can be filled with sleepless nights. It’s important that you know the health effects of not getting enough sleep so that you can find a way to make a good night’s sleep a priority.
A new German study suggests that sleep deprivation affects heart function. The researchers studied healthy people working 24-hour shifts and found that short-term sleep deprivation can lead to a significant “increase in cardiac contractility [the degree to which heart muscle contracts], blood pressure and heart rate.” The study also found that after the shift, participants showed significant increases in certain hormone levels including cortisol that is released by the body in response to stress.
It’s common for people in fire and emergency medical services, medical residencies and other high-stress jobs to work 24-hour shifts with little opportunity for sleep. But, according to the researchers behind the new study, the findings likely apply to other professions in which people work long stretches without sleep – like caregivers.
Exactly what is “enough sleep”? The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep for adults between the ages of 26 and 64 and 7 to 8 hours for adults over the age of 64. Is that far less sleep than you are getting each night?
Sleep needs to be a priority. It is as essential to a human being’s health as is food and water. Sleep research conducted by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School shows that one of the main parts of the brain impacted by a lack of sleep is the prefrontal cortex that controls complex thought. That is one very good reason that sleep is your most important tool as a caregiver – it enhances your performance and helps to maintain good judgement.
According to the Harvard studies, not getting enough sleep – whether for just one night or over the course of weeks to months – negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our mental performance. Concentration, working memory, mathematical capacity, and logical reasoning are all aspects of cognitive function compromised by sleep deprivation. As a result, people who are sleep deprived will begin to show deficits in many tasks that require logical reasoning which is certainly the centerpiece of providing good care.
Obtaining too little sleep also upsets the balance of hormones. Poor sleep leads to an increase in the production of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone” as well as the hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food. As a result, poor sleep may result in food cravings and the urge to eat sweets that satisfy the craving for a quick energy boost.
It’s time to get a good night’s sleep and Home Care Assistance can help. We provide flexible care that will remove the caregiving burden from your schedule in ways that truly help. If stress is interfering with your ability to get a good night’s sleep we can relieve it by providing daily care, 24/7 around the clock care and hourly care. Our caregivers are available to provide respite care to give you a much needed break from caregiving responsibilities. You deserve the peace of mind that comes from knowing you have support in caring for your loved one so that you have time to rest and recharge.



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