Caregivers of people with dementia lose between 2.5 to 3.5 hours of sleep weekly due to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep — a negative for themselves and potentially for those who receive their care.
Informal caregiving for a person with dementia is akin to adding a part-time but unpaid job to one’s life, with family members averaging 21.9 hours of caregiving, according to The Alzheimer’s Association estimates. Researchers from Baylor University analyzed 35 studies with data from 3,268 caregivers.
“Losing 3.5 hours of sleep per week does not seem much, but caregivers often experience accumulation of sleep loss over years,” said lead author Chenlu Gao, a doctoral candidate of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. “Losing 3.5 hours of sleep weekly on top of all the stress, grief and sadness can have a really strong impact on caregivers’ cognition and mental and physical health. But improving caregivers’ sleep quality through low-cost behavioral interventions can significantly improve their functions and quality of life.”
Chronic stress is associated with short sleep and poor-quality sleep. Nighttime awakenings by a patient with dementia also can contribute to disturbed sleep in caregivers, researchers said.
“With that extra bit of sleep loss every night, maybe a caregiver now forgets some medication doses or reacts more emotionally than he or she otherwise would,” said co-author Michael Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory.
“Caregivers are some of the most inspiring and hardest-working people in the world, but sleep loss eventually accumulates to a level that diminishes one’s vigilance and multi-tasking.”
Notably better sleep was observed in caregivers after such simple behaviors as getting more morning sunlight, establishing a regular and relaxing bedtime routine and taking part in moderate physical exercise.
In the United States, 16 million family caregivers give long-term care for dementia patients. Dementia affects some 50 million adults globally and is expected to increase to 131 million by 2050, according to the World Alzheimer Report. The global annual cost is nearing $1 trillion, largely due to patients’ loss of independence because of problems with eating, bathing and grooming, incontinence and memory loss.
For the analysis, researchers searched articles in peer-reviewed journals and books addressing caregivers, sleep, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, published through June 2018. Those studies measured sleep quality and quantity by monitoring brain electrical activity, body movements and self-reporting by caregivers.
The difference in time and quality of sleep was significant when compared to non-caregivers in the same age range and with the recommended minimum of sleep: seven hours nightly for adults. Researchers also analyzed intervention-related changes in sleep quality, such as daytime exercise, not drinking coffee or tea past late afternoon, not drinking alcohol at night and getting more sunlight in the morning.