As students around the country settle into the start of the semester, it’s important to remember that many of us are managing a lot more than our class schedules. College life can be a chaotic roller coaster ride of ups and downs as you learn to navigate a high-pressure world. And if you’re also balancing the responsibility of caring for a loved one, this experience can be even more chaotic and stressful than it is for the other college students around you (especially the start of the semester!). In order to provide the best care for your loved one, you first have to take care of yourself, and one of the most important aspects of a strong self-care routine is making sure you get adequate sleep.
Why You Need Sleep
For most students, the fact that sleep is a necessary biological function isn’t always enough to motivate them to get a full seven to nine hours every day. College students are notorious for pulling all-nighters or for functioning on less than 10 hours of sleep for the entire week.
However, if you’re studying, working, and caring for another person, you need sleep to:
- Keep Your Immune System Functioning: The immune system not only fights off infection while you sleep but it also recharges itself. Without that important time, your immunity goes down and inflammatory proteins flood your system.
- Maintain Energy Levels: Lack of sleep leads to daytime drowsiness and fatigue. Your circadian rhythms, those 24-hour cycles your body uses correctly time daily functions, are intricately connected energy network of your cells. When you’re not getting enough sleep, your energy levels can’t recharge.
- Regulate Your Metabolism and Appetite: Without enough sleep, the body releases more hunger hormone and less satiety hormone. Your brain also starts to get bigger “rewards” from high-fat, sugary foods if you’re low on sleep.
- Keep Stress in Check: When you’re tired, the emotional center of your brain goes into overdrive while the logical portion of the brain goes dormant. Any kind of negative stimulation can lead to irritability, aggression, and/or anxiety.
To keep yourself physically and mentally at your best, you need sleep. It’s as simple as that.
How to Get Better Sleep as a Caregiver
Knowing you need more sleep and actually getting it are two different things. However, making time for sleep will allow you to offer the best care to your loved one. It starts with your sleep environment.
The room should be cool, dark, and quiet. If you’re having trouble maintaining that temperature in a drafty house or apartment, a space heater might be the answer. Ear plugs can help block out the noise of a roommate or dorm party. Ask your roommate to use a desk lamp when working on a last-minute paper.
You’ll also want to:
- Keep a Consistent Bedtime: Your body loves routine and can predict when to start the release of sleep hormones when you keep a consistent bedtime.
- Follow a Bedtime Routine: No one should outgrow a good bedtime routine because it helps relieve tension and stress and can trigger the release of sleep hormones. It can anything that relaxes you, including quiet music, a warm cup of milk, or a warm bath.
- Manage Stress with Meditation or Yoga:. Meditation has been shown to reduce the size and activity in the emotional center of your brain while strengthening its connection to the logical portion of the brain. Yoga can reduce inflammation and relieve muscle tension and can be performed in bed if you want. A short 10-minute regimen of either can help keep stress from interfering with your sleep.
When you’re well-rested, you can take on the day’s challenges with a clear mind and an energized body. It might take time to develop healthy sleep habits, but it’s worth the effort.
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