A new study has shown that more than 90 per cent of those who are caring for a family member with dementia don’t get enough sleep.

The research, by the University at Buffalo School of Nursing in the US, showed that family carers are getting less than six hours of sleep a night – when between seven and nine hours is generally recommended.

In the short hours that family carers sleep, their sleep is also disrupted – sometimes up to four times per hour.

Not getting enough sleep can have a significant impact on a person’s physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. A lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing depression, weight gain, heart disease, and can even lead to premature death.

Sleep deprivation impairs decision making, decreases productivity, slows reflexes and motor skills, leads to increased stress levels, and has an impact on safety.

It follows then that if carers are suffering from a lack of sleep, the quality of the care they are providing could be impacted.

Of course, no one is to blame for carers being sleep deprived – it is an unfortunate side effect of the important caring work they are performing. Caring for someone who is living with dementia is one of the most difficult tasks anyone can perform. Carers do their best in often trying conditions, where care can be required 24/7.

With more than 400,000 people living with dementia in Australia at present – and that number set to rise to one million by 2056 – and 1.2 million people involved in the care of someone with dementia, the health and wellbeing of dementia carers is a significant issue for our nation.

Dementia and sleep

One of the most common symptoms of dementia is disrupted sleep – more than 80 percent of people with dementia have sleep disturbances, according to the authors of the study.

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

The study examined the sleep of 43 primary carers for a family member with dementia. All participants were over the age of 50. A sensor worn on each carer’s wrist measured how much sleep they got over a seven-day period. The sensor could also measure sleep disruptions.

Nearly 92 per cent of the carers experienced poor sleep quality, they woke frequently, and they slept less than six hours a night.

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep

So what can carers do to help them develop better sleep patterns and start to improve their sleep wake cycle?

  • Take a quick 10-minute nap during the day when possible
  • Try some light exercise daily, even a quick walk around the block
  • Have a regular sleep routine
  • Perform a calming activity before bed, for example, deep breathing, yoga, or reading
  • Try to go to bed at the same time each evening
  • Keep the bedroom dark and quiet
  • Cut down on caffeine and alcohol, particularly later in the day
  • Don’t eat a big meal just before going to bed
  • Try to eat a balanced diet to fuel your body

If you are concerned about the impact that lack of sleep is having on you, speak to your GP.

Getting a good night’s sleep is not only better for you, it’s better for those you are caring for too.

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