Aug 3, 2018

90 Percent of People Caring for a Family Member with Dementia Don’t Get Enough Sleep

The study found that 91.7% of caregivers suffer from poor sleep and that this can lead to depression, heart disease, and premature death.

Poor caregiver sleep can lead to depression, heart disease, weight gain, and premature death.

By Alzheimer's Reading Room

The study suggests that sleep quality for family caregivers of individuals with dementia varies considerably from night to night.

Understanding the complex interrelationships among caregivers’ sleep and other contributing variables is an important first step toward the development of individualized and effective treatment strategies.

The Gist

The study aimed to identify factors related to family caregivers’ sleep.


Findings indicated that poor sleep quality was found in 91.7% of the caregiver participants.
Depression, sleep hygiene, burden, and care‐recipients’ sleep were significant predictors of various dimensions of caregivers’ sleep.

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Factors associated with sleep in family caregivers of individuals with dementia

  • Family caregivers perceive their sleep as poor, but researchers measured the quality of their rest and found the reality far worse.
  • 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 disruptions can lead to chronic
  • sleep deprivation 
  • place caregivers at risk for depression, 
  • weight gain, 
  • heart disease 
  • and premature death.
“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” say lead authors Yu-Ping Chang, PhD, Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Endowed Professor in the UB School of Nursing.
“These disruptions have negative effects on caregivers’ health, which in turn will diminish their ability to provide optimal care.”

Nearly 6 million people are living with Alzheimer's disease. However, the effects are felt by the more than 16 million people, often family members, providing unpaid care, 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, published in July 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, 
  • 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 researchers found 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, says Chang, highlight the gap between caregivers’ subjective perception and objective measurements of their sleep quality.

“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.” ~ says Chang.

Research by the University at Buffalo School of Nursing.

Note: Other studies have shown that 33-40 percent of Alzheimer's caregivers suffer from depression.

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Hsi‐Ling Peng PhD, Rebecca A. Lorenz PhD, Yu‐Ping Chang PhD, July 2018,
"Factors associated with sleep in family caregivers of individuals with dementia",