A strange thing happened to me about 11 months after my father died.
It was nearing 10:00 p.m. one night when I decided to go to bed. I was used to only getting abbreviated periods of sleep, so thought I’d take the opportunity to try again. I closed my eyes for what seemed like a few seconds when, startled, I quickly glanced at the clock and was shocked to realize that it was already 7:00 a.m.! Not being sure of what just happened, I glanced out my bedroom window and indeed, the sun was dawning on a new day.
The realization soon hit me; this was the first time I had slept through an entire night in possibly five years!
As a fulltime caregiver, I had been struggling to survive on catnaps. It’s absolutely amazing how the human body can adapt itself to differing circumstances. I had actually learned to sleep with one eye and ear open, constantly on the alert, in case something bad happened to Dad in the middle of the night.
Becoming a light sleeper anyway became a part of me due to an incident that happened many years before my father died. It literally scared the wits out of me!
My dad had been extremely fond of our Russian Blue feline named “Kitty.” His four-legged friend had developed the habit of waking me up by jabbing her paw into my shoulder, which was her way of telling me she needed to use the great outdoors.
Like clockwork, every morning at 6:00 she would crouch a couple of inches from my face, waiting for me to stir. One morning completely different than her usual custom, she began her poking routine at 3:00. I brushed her aside and closed my eyes again in the desperate hope of getting more shut-eye. Instead, within seconds I was awakened to sharp pains in my chest as her razor sharp claws penetrated the skin of my chest. Jumping out of bed yelling, “I get the hint,” I groggily opened the front door, but no cat ran by. As I looked around my legs and then into the next room, sure enough, there was my dad lying flat on his back, staring straight up at the ceiling. And of course, Kitty was there like a trusted friend, licking the side of his face.
This wonderful cat with her internal clock actually came and woke me up to inform me that my father had fallen! I might have expected this from a dog, but from a cat? I was astonished!
Looking back, I believe that was the last night that I slept with both eyes shut.
Most of us have experienced trouble sleeping at one time or another. This is normal and usually temporary. But for caregivers it may be due to stress, anxiety or, yes, even depression. Unfortunately, sleep disorders can lead to other personal issues such as apathy, lack of concentration, irritability and poor emotional health. Now that you have moved into your post-caregiving season and should you be having sleep issues, take a look at getting help with this.
We all have an inner-body clock known as a “circadian cycle.” One of the aftereffects of caregiving is a disruption in circadian rhythms. If you feel as if you’re walking around with jet lag all day long, having trouble controlling your emotions or feel as if you’re constantly stuck with the winter blues, check into your circadian oscillator.
Yes, doctors should know what you mean. If not, educate them.