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, Baylor University researchers say.
The researchers’ analysis of 35 studies with data from 3,268 caregivers, “Sleep Duration and Sleep Quality in Caregivers of Patients with Dementia,” is published in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association.
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.
“Losing 3.5 hours of sleep per week does not seem much, but caregivers often experience accumulation of sleep loss over years,” lead author Chenlu Gao, a doctoral candidate of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, says in a statement. “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 say.
“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,” says co-author Michael Scullin, PhD, director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor.
“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.”