It’s a situation we all hope to never be in, but there may come a time where you find yourself waiting with a loved one in the hospital while they recover (whether it’s for a shorter period or long-term). If you do take on this responsibility, one thing you’ll definitely need is sleep. Good sleep keeps you more positive, more alert, and keeps your immune system working like it’s supposed to, which are all important qualities when you’re supporting someone in the hospital. Unfortunately, a hospital is far from home, and getting healthy sleep can be difficult in such an unfamiliar (and uncomfortable) environment, for both you and your recovering loved one.
Here are our tips for getting the best sleep possible during overnights in the hospital:
- Get the right amount of light
An extended time waiting in the hospital is a one-two punch to your sleep schedule due to the fact that it can deprive you of natural sunlight (which your body needs to keep its tight schedule of alertness and sleepiness) and later on, exposes you to bright ceiling lights in the evening, which can keep you up.
Our advice is twofold: every day, you should take some time to step outside and get some good ol’ sunlight, and after sundown, try and keep as much light out of the room you’re in as possible (even if it just means drawing the curtain to block hallway light, or putting the ceiling lights on a dimmer setting). This will help to regulate your body’s sleep schedule, keeping you awake in the daytime and letting your body know to relax in the evening.
- Get active
Research shows that exercise during the day can improve both the duration and quality of your sleep, and when you’re trying to get sleep in the hospital, you can use all the help you can get. Try a brisk walk around the building (or outside, for some sunshine), or even simple stretching exercises in the room. The idea is simply to get your heart rate up and maybe break a little sweat each day, so you can sleep easier later on.
- Remember to de-stress
The fact of the matter is that having to see someone you care about go through hurt and hassle in the hospital can be a considerable weight on your mind. While this concern is completely normal, it’s good to remember not to let yourself become overwhelmed, if only to help you sleep better at night.
If you feel like stress is building up and keeping your thoughts occupied when you try to sleep, try out some de-stressing methods before turning in for the night. A few ideas to get started: listening to some calming music, journaling, or meditating (which can be something as simple as focused breathing).
- Manage your caffeine intake
If there’s one thing you’ll find in great supply in nearly every hospital, it’s caffeinated products like coffee and pop. When you’re spending time with a patient, the temptation to grab a cuppa joe can hit you at all hours of the day (and the temptation only grows stronger if you’re already feeling sleepy). Our word of caution: check the clock before you caffeinate.
Caffeine can take 5 to 6 hours or longer to clear out of your system, so having a cup of coffee in the late afternoon or evening can block your sleep well into the night. Set yourself a strict caffeine cutoff of 2 p.m., so that your body has enough time to clear out the caffeine and let sleep come on naturally.
- Don’t forget your sleep additions!
There are a whole variety of products you can purchase that can help give you a leg up on getting sleep, even in a cramped hospital room. Some products compensate for irritants in the environment, such as eye masks and noise machines, while others help to make you more comfortable, like neck pillows or lavender essential oil.
Trust us, anything that helps you sleep easier is worth it! Go ahead and give these a try (and we highly recommend packing an eye mask for both you and the patient). Just make sure you clear room additions like an aroma diffuser with the doctor.
Sleep makes you a stronger support
Truly caring for someone—whether it’s a close friend, family member, or a partner—means that you’re there in the good times and bad. As you probably know from experience, having someone you love be there for you when you’re not feeling well lightens the burden significantly, and this is doubly true when you’re stuck in a hospital bed.
But we can’t forget that, even while we’re there for our loved one, we also need to care for ourselves and be cautious of burnout. Remember that the best bedside manner comes from a well-rested person! Keeping up good sleep habits keeps you from being a sleep-deprived zombie and allows you to actually be there for your loved one.