caregiver sleep

Female Caregivers of Dementia Patients Suffer from Poor Sleep Interview with:
Chenlu Gao, MA
Graduate Student
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Baylor University

Michael Scullin, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Baylor University What is the background for this study?

Response: According to the World Alzheimer Report, dementia affects 50 million adults worldwide, and this number is expected to approach 131 million by 2050. Dementia patients often require assistance with daily activities from caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association reported that, in the United States, 16 million caregivers spend on average 21.9 hours per week providing care for patients with dementia.

Being a caregiver is stressful, which not only challenges emotional, cognitive, and physical health, but is also associated with shorter and poorer sleep at night. If a caregiver cannot obtain restorative sleep at night, their quality of life and their abilities to perform the caregiving role can be compromised. For example, sleep loss may jeopardize caregivers’ memory, causing them to forget medications or medical appointments for the patients. Sleep loss can also impair immune functions, causing the caregivers to suffer from illnesses. In the long-term, sleep loss is associated with cortical thinning and accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau, which increase the risks of dementia.

Undoubtedly, there is a need to systematically study whether caregivers sleep less or worse during the night and whether we can improve their sleep quality through low-cost behavioral interventions. To answer these questions, we systematically reviewed and meta-analyzed 35 studies with data from 3,268 caregivers of dementia patients. What are the main findings?

Response: Caregivers of dementia patients lose about 2.42 to 3.50 hours of sleep per week and reported worse sleep quality compared to demographically-matched non-caregivers. Female caregivers are more adversely affected by caregiving than male caregivers. The good news is that caregivers’ sleep quality can be improved via low-cost behavioral interventions including receiving more sunlight in the morning, maintaining regular and relaxing nighttime routines, and performing moderate-intensity physical exercises. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Caregivers of dementia patients, especially female caregivers, have shorter and worse quality sleep, but their sleep quality can be improved by low-cost behavioral interventions. As soon as a dementia diagnosis is made, the primary care providers should educate caregivers of patients on sleep hygiene and encourage caregivers to engage in sleep-promoting behavioral practices. Effective practices include: receiving more sunlight in the morning, maintaining regular and relaxing nighttime routines, and performing moderate-intensity physical exercises. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future studies are needed to understand why the caregiving burden is more detrimental to female caregivers than male caregivers. It is also important to understand the connections between sleep, caregiving, and other psychosocial factors, such as depression, stress, and cognitive functioning.


Gao C, Chapagain NY, Scullin MK. Sleep Duration and Sleep Quality in Caregivers of Patients With DementiaA Systematic Review and Meta-analysisJAMA Netw Open. Published online August 23, 20192(8):e199891. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9891


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Last Updated on August 23, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD