A recent study, conducted by the Buffalo School of Nursing, based in the United States, has found that over 91% of caregivers suffer from poor sleep patterns and don’t get enough sleep. The study also found that caregivers of those with dementia tend to suffer the most, with quality of sleep varying considerably from one night to the next.
A lack of sleep amongst caregivers, especially those that are direct family members, has been closely linked to increased instances of depression, anxiety, obesity and heart disease. This is why it’s so important to understand the interrelationship between caregiver sleep patterns and caregiving duties, and how these two can be best combined to make for a better sleep environment.
The study, published in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, analysed the sleep of 43 people serving as primary caregivers for a family member with dementia.
What this study uncovered at its core is that family caregivers suffer a far worse sleeping schedule than they let on. At first, these caregivers described their sleep patterns as ‘poor’. But after each participant in the study was given an actigraphy (a non-invasive measure of rest and activity) watch to wear to track their sleep, findings displayed a chronic issue with sleep.
Most participants were getting less than the recommended minimum of 6 hours’ sleep per night, accompanied by frequent awakenings - some as much as four disturbances in an hour. This makes for severely disrupted sleep, which really isn’t 6 hours of sleep at all.
The main contributing factors to these sleep disturbances are the burden of care, anxiety and wandering among the majority of care receivers, common symptoms associated with dementia.
To add to this, poor sleep hygiene and sleep latency were also common among the majority of study participants. Poor sleep hygiene includes day-time napping and over-stimulation before bedtime, which leads to sleep latency – an inability to fall asleep. Most participants were found to take an average of 40 minutes to fall asleep, cutting into their overall rest time.
What can be done to create better sleep patterns?
If this sounds all too familiar to you as a family caregiver, you might need to make some significant changes in the way you prioritise sleep and your caregiving duties.
Some simple changes you can implement to create better sleeping habits include:
- Establishing a regular sleep and wake schedule and sticking to it, i.e. going to bed at the same time each night, where possible.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime ritual, which doesn’t involve overstimulating the brain, such as watching television or scrolling the internet.
- Limiting your daily naps – keep daytime napping to a minimum of just 20-minutes as longer naps could be disturbing your evening sleep pattern.
- Maintain a healthy workout regime – this should help your body to expel pent-up energy or anxiety and help you sleep more solidly.
- Share the load – if sleep disturbances are a common nightly occurrence, you may need to begin sharing your burden of care with another family member who is willing to help.
Taking care of yourself as a caregiver should be a number one priority, and this includes the management of your sleep. After all, only a well-rested caregiver will be able to provide the most attentive care possible.