Effects of Sleep Deprivation on a Stressed-out Caregiver

It may sound unrealistic to think about getting a full 8 hours of sleep each night as you juggle the responsibilities of life, work, and care. As is the case for many caregivers, the stress level of care may make it hard to shut your brain off at night. Thoughts of what went wrong that day, frantically trying to remember if you gave your loved one their medication at lunch, or worries about the day ahead may take over. Even without the stress of care, people find it hard to get enough sleep.


4 Problems Lack of Sleep Causes in Caregivers

Up to 76% of caregivers reported poor sleep quality in a 2016 study on caregivers and sleep. Poor sleep quality refers to things such as not getting enough hours of sleep, having trouble falling asleep, struggling to stay asleep (waking throughout the night), or getting little REM sleep (AKA - light sleeping, which is something you may experience without realizing it).


While you may think that you function perfectly fine without sleep, studies have shown that this is simply not true. The reality is that we are simply not aware of how sleep deprivation is impacting us in real-time. We tend to overestimate our functioning capacity on low sleep and underestimate the problems it’s causing us. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker goes into this in more detail, but we’ll explain four problems sleep deprivation is likely causing in your life that you may not have yet noticed or attributed to sleep issues.

  1. Memory Lapses. Minor lapses in memory (such as forgetting where you put the keys) are a common symptom of sleep deprivation. Having a well-rested mind plays a key role in short-term memory, both processing and retaining new information. Conversely, getting enough sleep can improve your memory, making caregiving easier to manage and ultimately, less stressful.

  2. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Sleep deprivation often leads to issues with managing stress levels. These stress levels, if left unchecked, can easily turn into a more formal mental health problem like anxiety and/or depression. If you already suffer from anxiety or depression, a lack of sleep is linked to these conditions worsening. Compounding this issue is the fact that stress, anxiety, and depression can also cause sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation, therefore, can be both a cause and a symptom of anxiety and depression. It then leads that getting adequate sleep can prevent or improve these conditions.

  3. Health: Food and Exercise Cravings When your body is depleted of the rest it needs, your hormones start to get a bit out of whack. Here’s a summary by the Cleveland Clinic:

  4. Ghrelin, the hunger-control hormone, increases, causing you to eat more.

  5. Leptin, the appetite-suppressing hormone, decreases, causing you not to realize when you’re full.

  6. Cortisol, the stress hormone, may increase, stimulating your appetite. This causes you to not just crave food, but crave sweet, salty, or fatty foods which offer a low level of satiety (meaning your body will burn through it and feel hungry again quickly), potentially causing you to overeat. It can also lead to you feeling too tired to exercise, propelling the cycle downward.

  7. Health: Illness Not only does a lack of sleep cause problems in your food and exercise, but it also is linked to a huge number of health concerns (both acute and chronic) such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more.

Closing Thoughts: Caregiver Sleep Deprivation

Caregivers are sometimes under intense pressure and it can often feel like the only way to “get it all done” during the day is by cutting into your sleep time. But by cutting into the time you need to recover, you’re likely doing more harm than good. You can’t pour from an empty cup, as the saying goes. You’ll provide better care if you’re well-rested, which is better for both you and your loved one.


If you provide regular care to your loved one, we at CRC Orange County are here for you. We invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here for further reading and resources. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.