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Research - Dementia and Sleep

Sleep disturbances with dementia and caregiving


Rosie Gibson has been undertaking research concerning sleep with ageing, dementia, and caregiving over the last ten years. This has involved studies talking to families living with dementia, analysing data in large-scale studies, and trialling strategies to improve sleep. Some key findings include:

  • Sleep health is important! Sleep status is strongly related to physical and mental health, including use of medications, waking function, falls, and care service needs.
  • Sleep problems are reported by 25-30% of older New Zealanders. Problems frequently reported by older participants include poor sleep quality, shorter sleep, waking too early, increased toilet trips, daytime sleepiness, or specific sleep disorders (like sleep apnoea or restless legs).
  • Some people with dementia talk about unique sleep disruptions. These include increased issues falling asleep and staying asleep at night, confused awakenings, and more frequent or vivid dreams. Clinical sleep disorders also appear more common. Unsurprisingly, this can also mean feeling more tired in the daytime.
  • Caregiving responsibilities affect sleep. In our survey across regional dementia services, around 65% of family carers reported disturbed sleep. More severe sleep problems were related to the sleep and needs of the care recipient as well as the carers own health, wellbeing, and living status.
  • Sleep changes across the transitions of ageing, dementia, and caregiving. Our interview studies identify that sleep is informed by who we are, our personal preferences, and responsibilities and events of waking life. All such factors change as we get older. Carers spoke about sleep getting “progressively worse” for both parties as dementia progressed. They also reported feeling a need to be “on high alert” which hindered their ability to sleep. Furthermore, when sleep became very disrupted, this impacted feeling well and able to manage the caregiving situation.
  • Supporting sleep is useful for wellbeing. Managing the unique sleep disturbances associated with dementia can be challenging. However, some studies identify unique strategies and information which help adapt how we consider and manage sleep disturbances as well practices associated which can support more robust rhythms of sleep and wake with ageing, dementia, and caregiving.    


Dr Rosie Gibson is a Senior Lecturer at Massey University where she conducts research concerning sleep with aging and dementia. For more information on sleep see our April NewsletterThe Australian Sleep Health Foundation