Disrupted sleep and associated factors in Australian dementia caregivers: a cross-sectional study

Aisling Smyth, Lisa Whitehead, Eimear Quigley, Caroline Vafeas, Laura Emery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Sleep disturbance is an issue reported by caregivers. Waking at night is a feature of dementia and by proxy, sleep disturbance among caregivers is reported to be high. Little is known about the characteristics of dementia caregivers' sleep and the factors that may influence sleep disruption. The purpose of this study was to investigate the sleep characteristics and disturbances of Australian caregivers of a person living with dementia. In addition, it evaluated the psychological wellbeing of caregivers by evaluating associations between mood and sleep in this population.

METHODS: This study used a cross-sectional, descriptive, correlation design. Participants were recruited with the assistance of Alzheimer's Australia, Dementia Australia and targeted social media advertising. In total, 104 adult, primary, informal caregivers of people with dementia participated, completing a questionnaire on demographic characteristics, the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21) and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).

RESULTS: In this study, 76% of caregivers were female who had been caring for someone living with dementia on average for 4.8 years. 44% of participants had two or more co-morbidities namely cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and diabetes. 94% of participants were poor sleepers with 84% with difficulty initiating sleep and 72% reporting having difficulty maintaining sleep. Overall, psychological distress was common with high levels of moderate to severe depression, anxiety and stress. Global PSQI scores were significantly positively associated with depression and anxiety, with the strongest correlation seen with stress scores. Depression scores were also moderately associated with daytime dysfunction. Stress was identified as a significant predictor of overall sleep quality.

CONCLUSIONS: Sleep problems are common within the population of dementia caregivers. Due to the nature and duration of caregiving and the progression of dementia of the care recipient, there is the potential for a decline in the caregivers' mental and physical health. Caregivers of those living with dementia are more likely to have comorbidities, depression, anxiety and stress. Sleep quality is correlated with emotional distress in dementia caregivers although the direction of this association is unclear. Therefore, sleep and psychological wellbeing may be intertwined, with improvements in one aspect resulting in a positive impact in the other.

Original languageEnglish
Article number312
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


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