Dementia patient caregivers lose sleep, adding to mental health stress

By Tauren Dyson

Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Caregivers for people with dementia miss out on up to 3.5 hours of sleep each week, which could lead to harmful outcomes for patients, a new study says.

On average, family members spend nearly 22 hours each week caring for parents, grandparents and siblings with Alzheimer's and other conditions. Researchers compare this to an unpaid, part-time job that carries with it the added stress beyond any job.


While this can also extend to sleep problems, as found in findings published Friday in JAMA Network Open. But a behavioral intervention can give them back some of those lost sleep hours researchers say.

"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 researcher at Baylor University and study lead author, said in a news release. "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."


Caring for dementia patients can lead to chronic stress, which can shorten sleep spans and worsen sleep quality. Waking up to address nighttime awakenings from those patients can also disturb the sleep patterns of caretakers.

The researchers analyzed 35 studies that gauged sleep quality and quantity of 3,268 caregivers by observing their brain electrical activity and body movements.

They used this data to examine intervention activities that can affect sleep quality like not drinking coffee or tea beyond late afternoon, exercising and getting more sunlight in the daytime and abstaining from alcohol before sleep.

The researchers found that participants who engaged in these healthy behaviors had better sleep patterns than those who did not.

It's recommended adults get seven hours of sleep each night. But there was a sizable difference in sleep times and quality for caregivers compared to non-caregivers.

The Alzheimer's Association Report has estimated the number of people in the United States to grow to nearly 14 million people by the middle of this century.

"Given the long-term, potentially cumulative health consequences of poor-quality sleep, as well as the rising need for dementia caregivers worldwide, clinicians should consider sleep interventions not only for the patient but also for the spouse, child or friend who will be providing care," Gao said.


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