A new study finds that the vast majority of dementia caregivers are suffering from sleep deprivation.
Without good sleep, getting through the day is a challenge — especially in stressful times. Beyond the day-to-day, unrestful sleep is linked to hypertension, mood disorders and dementia. Sleep disruption is also a factor in predicting caregivers’ stress, and their likelihood of placing a loved one into long-term care. And recent research from New Edith Cowan University in Australia has found that 94 percent of Australians caring for a loved one with dementia are sleep-deprived.
“Enabling people living with dementia to stay at home, rather than transfer to long-term care is the optimal outcome for many families, but this can’t be at the detriment of the caregiver’s own wellbeing,” Dr. Aisling Smyth of ECU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and an author of the study said in a recent news release. “Therefore, to support the person living with dementia to remain at home, preserving sleep and maintaining caregiver health is vital.”
Smyth and colleagues investigated the sleep patterns and disturbances among more than 100 people caring for a loved one with dementia, finding that among the 94 percent of participants who were poor sleepers, 84 percent had difficulty falling asleep, and 72 percent reported difficulty maintaining sleep. Stress was the most significant predictor of overall sleep quality.
Just like diet and exercise, sleep is the foundation of health and wellbeing. Past research shows that the brain’s waste management system known as the glymphatic system largely operates when people are in deep sleep, getting rid of waste and cycling nutrients through the brain. Not only is sleep necessary for people to feel alert, but it also appears to keep people’s brain healthy in the long-term.
There are ways to ease the burdens of caregiving and experts often urge caregivers to seek help and support. Authors of the recent study pointed to the importance of accessing respite services. After all, respite care like day care centers can provide temporary relief for primary caregivers.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted caregivers’ access to such services, experts say that creating a routine for a loved one with dementia is critical. They also urge caregivers to take care of themselves, whether it’s sleeping a little longer, chatting with a friend on the phone or listening to a podcast.
Meanwhile, researchers from the recent study are now working on a program that will support dementia caregivers in achieving healthier sleeping habits.
“The aim will be to help them get to sleep quicker and have more efficient and effective sleep,” she said. “We will also measure whether better sleep improves their ability to provide care.”
The program plans to use cognitive behavioural therapy to provide caregivers techniques to manage their stress and improve their overall quality of sleep.
Additional reporting by Nicholas Chan