9 of 10 dementia caregivers don’t get enough sleep

9 of 10 dementia caregivers don’t get enough sleep

More than 90 percent of people caring for a family member with dementia experience poor sleep, new research shows.

The study found that most participants got less than six hours of sleep each night, accompanied by frequent awakenings—as often as four times per hour.

These kinds of disruptions can lead to chronic sleep deprivation and place caregivers at risk for depression, weight gain, heart disease, and premature death, says lead author Yu-Ping Chang, a professor in the School of Nursing at the University at Buffalo.

“Though memory loss is the best-known symptom of dementia, more than 80 percent of people with dementia will also experience sleep disturbances, anxiety, and wandering,” says Chang, who is also associate dean for research and scholarship in the School of Nursing.

“These disruptions have negative effects on caregivers’ health, which in turn will diminish their ability to provide optimal care.”

Nearly six million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease—however more than 16 million people, often family members, providing unpaid care, feel the effects, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Past research has found that between 50 and 70 percent of caregivers have sleep complaints, but the data used in those studies was self-reported. Few researchers have taken objective measurements to gain a more accurate picture of caregiver sleep quality, says Chang.

The study, which appears in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, analyzed the sleep of 43 people serving as the primary caregiver for a family member with dementia. All participants were over the age of 50 and lived in the Western New York region.

Participants were given an actigraphy watch (a sensor worn on the wrist) to measure sleep time, efficiency, and awakenings in their home over seven days.

Caregivers were also required to complete a sleep diary for themselves and their care recipients, and self-assessments on depression, burden of care, sleep quality, and sleep hygiene—behaviors that may interfere with sleep such as daytime naps, exercise, and watching television before bed.

The findings show that nearly 92 percent of participants experienced poor sleep quality, awoke frequently, and slept less than six hours per night—below the recommended total of seven or eight hours per night.

Poor sleep hygiene was found to increase sleep latency, or the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Although caregivers self-reported taking an average of 30 minutes to fall asleep, data collected from the actigraphy watches showed a longer sleep latency of 40 minutes.

The results highlight the gap between caregivers’ subjective perception and objective measurements of their sleep quality, Chang says.

“Understanding how well caregivers are sleeping and the variables that affect them is an important first step toward the development of tailored and effective treatment,” says Chang. “This would help the millions of caregivers receive the optimum sleep needed to protect their health and continue to provide quality care.”

Other authors are from the University at Buffalo and the Cardinal Tien College of Healthcare and Management in Taiwan.