Caregivers and Sleep: A New Research Study

A new four year study about how the quality of your sleep can effect your health is being sponsored by the University of South Florida College of Nursing and the National Institute of Aging. The study, titled "Improving Dementia Caregiver Sleep and the Effect on Heart Disease Biomarkers" is focused on developing user-friendly treatment that will improve caregivers' sleep in order to benefit their overall health and attempt to keep patients with Alzheimer's with their loved ones instead of in nursing homes.

According to Meredith Rowe, who is leading the $1.9 million study, "Caregiving and lack of sleep each separately increase the risk of heart disease. We want to discover whether improving sleep in caregivers lowers that risk."

Past sleep studies have shown that the overall effects of sleep loss has been linked with a number of health problems including increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke. Rowe's team has already developed an integrated nighttime monitoring system called CareAlert, is a novel night monitoring system that was designed by Rowe and Caregiver Watch, LLC, that has the ability to track bed occupancy and provides alerts to caregivers when a patient leaves their bed and wanders around the house. The idea is to allow the caregiver to rest during the night.

In 2009, the Journal of the Alzheimer's Association published a report on the effectiveness of the CareAlert and found that nighttime injuries decreased and unattended home exits dropped by 85 percent over the course of one year.

Whether being kept awake because of caring for a loved one or because of insomnia, lack of sleep can take its toll on both your mind and body. Here are some tips for creating better sleeping habits:

Eat more protein and whole grains. Protein and whole grains will help steady your blood sugar levels throughout the day. The energy boost you get from lean meats, cheeses, eggs, or legumes will keep you going throughout the day and help you crash when it's time for bed. Bulgur, barley and other whole grains contain magnesium. Studies have shown that consuming too little magnesium may make it harder to stay asleep.

Give yourself time to digest before bedtime. Going to bed with a stomach full of food can keep you up at night. And filling up on sugars or fats, typically found in most desserts, can be hard for the human body to digest. This can lead to indigestion, heart burn, or acid reflux -- all of which are guaranteed to keep you up at night.

Be strategic about your pre-bedtime foods. Certain foods have enzymes in them that will help you fall asleep. Fish -- especially salmon, halibut and tuna -- have a good amount of vitamin B6, which helps produce melatonin, the hormone which helps you sleep. Bananas, chickpeas and fortified cereals also boost your vitamin B6.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Most people know that they can't handle a double espresso within a few hours of bedtime. But did you also know that caffeine is found in chocolate, soda, energy drinks and tea? It's best to cut yourself off from caffeine at least five hours before bedtime. And while alcohol may seem sleep-inducing, it actually can reduce REM sleep, making you more tired the next day.

Aim to make it dark and quiet in your bedroom. With smartphones and televisions popular items to bring into the bedroom these days, it's important to unplug before going to bed. Make sure that your phone is on silent and if you have to fall asleep with the television on, we recommend setting a sleep timer so that it won't wake you up in the middle of the night.