To Sleep or Not to Sleep – The Carers Conundrum

To Sleep or Not to Sleep – The Carers Conundrum


Cancer caregivers have the important role of tending to the needs of their loved ones during a critical time. However, for many, it takes a physical and emotional toll on their health.

In trying to bring comfort to their loved one, it may be common for carers to neglect their own needs, resulting in a decline in their health. For example, carers may be particularly prone to a lack of sleep at night, with a study revealing that between 40 – 76 per cent of caregivers experience significant sleep disturbance – more than cancer patients themselves.

This can be caused by multiple factors, with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center revealing these to be:

  • The stress that comes with being responsible for another person’s health
  • A sense of always having to be awake and alert (a study of cancer caregivers found the most frequent disturbance to sleep was waking during the night to care for the patient)
  • The changes that being a caregiver might have brought to their daily routine
  • A concern for the well-being of their loved one
  • Lack of support from family and friends
  • Anxiety due to financial issues

Further, other factors can include mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, which may either cause sleep problems or be the result of them.

Why Caregivers Need Sleep

Sleep is a requirement for anyone, but caregivers especially need to be well-rested so they can provide adequate care for their loved one.

There are multiple effects that insomnia may have on your ability to caregive. Firstly, it may make you tired during the day, meaning you don’t have much energy to perform duties.

Additionally, it can drastically impact your mental and physical welfare, and it is believed that only one night of lost sleep is all it takes to ‘catch a cold’, have an accident, feel intense emotions, and lose focus.

But there are even effects that are less known, such as insomnia’s ability to kill brain cells – the result of this being other problems, such as memory loss. Due to this and other issues, a carer’s ability to look after a cancer patient may be heavily affected by a lack of sleep.

How to Get Better Sleep as a Caregiver

If feeling overwhelmed and stressed is what’s keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep, some recommendations from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention include:

  • Considering respite care for your loved one. This is described as ‘temporary care given to a person who is unable to care for himself or herself, so the person’s usual caregivers can have a break’.
  • Seeking help from your family members, friends, or others in the community, such as a support group ‘for emotional support’.
  • Seeking financial assistance. If money is causing you stress as a result of reduced work hours or needing to leave your job, you may be able to receive a payment from the government for being a carer
  • Staying healthy and fit, and generally taking care of yourself.

Gemma Crotty is a volunteer blog writer for Solaris Cancer Centre from her home in Melbourne. Currently studying a Graduate Diploma in Communication at La Trobe University, she is considering a career in communications or journalism. Gemma has a strong humanities research background from her Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Sydney. She has a keen passion for writing and likes to find new ways to hone her skills and connect to others through her words.