Caregivers often have plenty of concerns to lose sleep over. Those taking care of people with dementia lose so much sleep that they can put their own health at risk, according to new research.
Due to difficulties falling and staying asleep, caregivers of people with dementia lose two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours of sleep each week, according to researchers at Baylor University.
Their sleep is “shorter and poorer-quality” than that of other people their same age, said the Baylor study, published in JAMA Network Open, an online journal of the American Medical Association.
Significantly, it added, there are “long-term, potentially cumulative health consequences of poor-quality sleep.”
“Losing 3.5 hours of sleep per week does not seem much, but caregivers often experience accumulation of sleep loss over years,” said Chenlu Gao, lead author and 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.”
Some 16 million people in the United States are informal family caregivers looking after someone with dementia, and many suffer chronic stress associated with sleep loss, the researchers said.
Caregivers also may be awakened from sleep by dementia patients, they said.
The caregiving is similar to having a part-time job, and family members spend an average of 21.9 hours a week caring for those with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The stress and sleeplessness may take a toll on the quality of the caregiving, the researchers added.
“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 Michael Scullin, a co-author and director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory.
The research drew from 35 studies with data from 3,268 caregivers. Their sleep quality and quantity were measured by monitoring brain electrical activity and body movements and by self-reporting.
Their sleep troubles did improve, however, with simple changes such as getting more morning sunlight, establishing a regular and relaxing bedtime routine and getting moderate exercise, the research said.
Around the world, dementia affects about 50 million adults, and that figure is expected to increase dramatically to 131 million people by 2050.
Caregivers typically help people with dementia deal with problems eating, bathing and grooming, with incontinence and with memory loss.
“Sleep debt is known to have cumulative associations with physical, mental, and cognitive health,” the study said. “Poor sleep quality in dementia caregivers should be recognized and addressed.”