A new study finds that nine in 10 individuals caring for a family member with dementia experience poor sleep.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo (UB) School of Nursing found that most caregivers in the study got less than six hours of sleep each night, exacerbated by frequent awakenings as often as four times per hour.

These disruptions can lead to chronic sleep deprivation and place caregivers at risk for depression, weight gain, heart disease and premature death, said lead author Yu-Ping Chang, Ph.D., Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Endowed Professor in the UB School of Nursing.

“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,” said Chang, also the associate dean for research and scholarship in the School of Nursing.

“These disruptions have negative effects on caregivers’ health, which in turn will diminish their ability to provide optimal care.”

The findings are published in the journal Perspectives in Psychiatric 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.

Previous research has shown that between 50 and 70 percent of caregivers have sleep complaints, but the data used in those studies was self-reported. Few studies have taken objective measurements to gain a more accurate picture of caregiver sleep quality, says Chang.

The new study analyzed the sleep of 43 individuals 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.

For seven days, participants wore an actigraphy watch on the wrist to measure sleep time, efficiency, and awakenings in their home.

Caregivers completed a sleep diary for themselves and their care recipients, as well as 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 results show that nearly 92 percent of the caregivers 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.

And although caregivers self-reported taking an average of 30 minutes to fall asleep, data collected from the actigraphy watches showed it actually took longer — around 40 minutes.

The findings, said Chang, reveal 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,” she said. “This would help the millions of caregivers receive the optimum sleep needed to protect their health and continue to provide quality care.”

Source: University at Buffalo