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In my last posts, I suggested that one key to living well with a serious disease like Parkinson's is to treat it as a life problem to be accommodated. I also noted that experts are united in what's best for you: exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.
Getting enough sleep is a different problem from exercising and eating well because it doesn't seem to be within our control. We can choose to go to the gym or to eat carrots instead of potato chips, but sleeping seems to be something that just happens. Or, for many of us, doesn't. And that's the problem. How do we get the eight hours of sleep experts tell us we need?
The problem is worsened in caregiving when our caree has to get up in the night and needs help. That means we also have to get up and then struggle to get back to sleep.
But sleeping well isn't entirely accidental. Here are some things you can do to improve it.
First, schedule your sleep. If you needed to set aside a block of time for anything else, you'd put it in your schedule. Do the same with your sleep. Plan to go to bed at a specific time each night and get up at a specific time in the morning.
Second, beds are for sleeping or sex. Nothing else. That means no reading, television, video games, or late-night social media chats. Leave all your electronics outside the bedroom so that the glow of their ready lights doesn't disturb or tempt you. As for your phone, turn it off.
Third, avoid things that alter mood, including stimulants like coffee, nicotine, or exercise, and depressants like alcohol. Stimulants will keep you awake—which is why they're called stimulants. Depressants may help you sleep, but it will be fitful. Don't cut these things out of your life altogether, just in the evening when their effects will still be present when you go to bed.
Fourth, check your bed. Is is comfortable. Does the mattress sag? Is it lumpy? When you rotate it—you do rotate it, yes?—does it fold over on itself? Then you need a new one. Don't scrimp. Sleep is too important to compromise with a shoddy bed.
Fifth, check your environment. Are the neighbors noisy? Does your pet wake you? If sleeping with a pet is relaxing, then do it. Otherwise, lock them out of the bedroom. As for the neighbors, get a white noise generator or, more cheaply, a fan. Double-glazed windows also help.
Sixth, when your sleep is interrupted by children or your caree's need to use the toilet, do you easily go back to sleep? If not, consider going into the living room and reading a chapter of a book until your eyes droop. No television or video or working on that report for your boss.
Last, if none of these work for you, talk to your doctor and get screened for a sleep disorder.
Sleep well. You need it and you deserve it.