Family members caring for dementia patients aren’t getting enough sleep

Family members caring for dementia patients aren’t getting enough sleep

Being a caregiver to a person with dementia has many challenges, but among them is finding the time to look after yourself. A recent study found that while many of those in this position perceived their sleep as poor, the quality of their rest was in fact even worse.

In excess of 90 per cent of those caring for a relative with dementia experience poor sleep. This is according to research carried out by the University at Buffalo School of Nursing. It found that the majority of such carers managed less than six hours of sleep a night and many awoke as much as four times an hour.

Yu-Ping Chang, lead author of the study, said: "Though memory loss is the best-known symptom of dementia, more than 80 per cent of people with dementia will also experience sleep disturbances, anxiety and wandering. These disruptions have negative effects on caregivers' health, which in turn will diminish their ability to provide optimal care."

While research into this area has been undertaken before, the data used has been self-reported. This new study took measurements from an objective viewpoint, therefore offering a more accurate picture of the quality of sleep a dementia caregiver can expect to get.

A total of 43 primary dementia caregivers all over the age of 50 were monitored using an actigraphy watch during the research. This device was worn on the wrist to measure the amount of sleep time, efficiency of the rest and number of times they woke over a seven-day period.

Participants also kept a sleep diary for themselves and the relative they look after, as well as a record of depression, burden of care, sleep quality and sleep hygiene self assessments. The latter refers to behaviour that can have an impact on sleep, such as napping in the daytime, exercise and watching television directly before bedtime, which can lead to people spending more time trying to nod off. 

The average amount of time it took to fall asleep was self-reported at 30 minutes, but the actigraphy watches showed the figure was more like 40 minutes.

Nearly 92 per cent of the carers were found to have poor sleep quality, woke up frequently in the night and slept for less than six hours. This falls below the recommended seven to eight hours that everyone should be getting and can significantly impact an individual’s own health.

Chang added: "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. This would help the millions of caregivers receive the optimum sleep needed to protect their health and continue to provide quality care."

Taking on the care of a relative with dementia is a huge commitment and will likely impact on many areas of an individual’s life. This can include sleeping, health, work and social life, so should therefore not be entered into lightly.

It is a good idea to weigh up all the options and seek the advice that is available before making such a decision. This latest study shows that carers often underestimate the trials of their role, with sleep being just one area where they’re getting less than they ideally need.