All too often, especially for older patients, insomnia is a formidable enemy that leaves them feeling agitated but still tired upon waking in the morning. It is a common patient complaint. For many patients, a good night’s sleep becomes just wishful thinking—too difficult to achieve.
There are four ways patients usually experience insomnia:
• Difficulty falling asleep
• Waking up many times in the night
• Waking up too early and finding it hard to get back to sleep
• Waking up still feeling unrefreshed
When insomnia happens frequently or for a long period of time, a patient cannot recharge their immune system, so their defenses against diseases weaken.
If you are a caregiver caring for a patient with difficulty getting restful sleep at night, you must be creative in finding ways to facilitate sleep.
First, set the stage to promote relaxation in the patient. They must not be hungry, or feeling too full, either. Help them take a warm shower or just freshen up, whichever helps them relax. Give them a backrub.
Perform mouth care and comb their hair. Help your patient take their pain medications if they have one scheduled before bedtime. Give warm milk if they have no dairy restrictions.
Finally, dim the lights, keep the room temperature comfortable, and reduce background noise. Some white noise, such as dripping water from the faucet or the static noise of the television may be helpful, though.
Now, take a look at the relaxation technique below. This strategy is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation and is proven to help promote sleep.
1. Instruct the patient to position themselves comfortably in bed. Tell them to relax and become aware of the sensations they feel.
For example, describe how their head rests on the soft pillow, how their hands touch the smooth blanket, and how their feet are slightly touching the foot of the bed. Be specific in asking them what muscles are tense and tell them to consciously relax them.
2. At this point, an active mind usually wanders, and the patient may lose focus thinking of many other things, so call their attention back.
Tell the patient if they find their thoughts drifting, they have to refocus on the sensations that they are currently feeling.
3. Next, instruct your patient to pay attention to their breathing—that, as they inhale deeply, air enters their nose, fills their lungs and expands their chest and abdomen.
Let them put a hand over their belly and feel it get bigger as they breathe in. Tell your patient to hold their breath a few seconds and then release. Ask them to be aware of the air leaving their body, and their chest and abdomen deflating. As your patient breathes in and out, tell them to feel how the hand resting on their abdomen moves up and down with their breathing. Remind the patient to go always back to this process if they start thinking of something else other than their breathing.
4. If the patient feels pain or tension anywhere in their body, have them consciously relax that part as they continue to do deep breathing.
Help them through this process for a few minutes. If the patient drifts to sleep, you can leave the room quietly. If not, tell the patient to free their minds until they fall asleep.
Promoting restful sleep in a patient is a wonderful accomplishment as a caregiver, so go ahead and pat yourself on the back. You have given your patient an amazing gift that will absolutely contribute to their wellbeing. Kudos to you!
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