The stress of dementia caregivers leads to sleep deprivation

Research from New Edith Cowan University (ECU) found that 94% of Australians caring for a loved one with dementia are sleep deprived.

This can potentially lead to poor health of the caregiver and can also affect their ability to provide care to the person living with dementia.

Poor sleep is associated with negative physical and psychological outcomes including hypertension, obesity, mood disorders, and dementia.

The study, led by Dr Aisling Smyth of ECU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery in collaboration with Alzheimer’s WA, studied the sleep characteristics and disorders of 104 Australian carers of a person with dementia. In addition, it assessed the psychological well-being of caregivers by evaluating associations between mood and sleep.

Dr. Smyth said that an interrupted sleep pattern is recognized as a significant factor in predicting stress for caregivers and, perhaps most importantly, in predicting that a loved one is placed in long-term care.

“Allowing people with dementia to stay at home, rather than moving to long-term care, is the optimal outcome for many families, but this cannot be at the expense of the caregiver’s well-being.

“Therefore, to support the person living with dementia to stay at home, preserve sleep and maintain the health of the caregiver is vital,” said Dr. Smyth.

Key findings:

    94% of participants had poor sleep, 84% had difficulty initiating sleep, and 72% reported difficulty staying asleep.

    Stress was the most significant predictor of overall sleep quality.

    – 44% of participants have two or more chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and diabetes.

    Psychological distress was common among participants with high levels of moderate to severe depression, anxiety and stress.

Jason Burton, head of the Alzheimer’s WA dementia study, said:

“We have heard from many family members the effect the caring role can have on their sleep quality and the negative impacts this can have.

“We have partnered with ECU in this research to learn more about this impact and to find ways to help caregivers maintain their health and quality of life.”

Sleep better

Dr. Smyth is now working on a program to promote better sleep for dementia caregivers at ECU’s psychological services.

“The goal will be to help them fall asleep faster and have more efficient and effective sleep. We will also measure whether better sleep improves their ability to provide care,” said Dr. Smyth.

“If there’s a shorter window they can sleep in, we aim to optimize it, so it’s really good.”

The program will use cognitive behavioral therapy designed to help caregivers manage their stress and equip them with the knowledge and skills to improve their sleep.


The study “Sleep disturbed and associated factors in Australian dementia caregivers: a cross-sectional study” was published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.

Media Contact: Tori Pree, Communications Coordinator, +61 8 6304 2208, [email protected]

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