That the full-time caregiving of a parent, spouse or child can leave you in a sleep deficit will surprise no one. But new research from Sweden finds that for people who are both employed and caring for a sick family member, the cost can be much more than a lost hour or two of snooze time.
The researchers behind this study looked at what they called “informal caregivers”, or people who were looking after a sick loved one, without pay, anytime between 2010 and 2016. The study volunteers were asked about their difficulty falling asleep, how many times they woke in the night and whether they felt the sleep they got was restful. They ranged from those who provided care for as little as an hour a day up to those who acted as caregivers all day, every day.
What the scientists found was that fulltime-caregiving while employed was directly linked to sleep problems in the caregivers. The level of sleep disturbance reported by caregivers was also tied to how much care was required–especially if more than 5 hours per day were needed–but affected even those providing light care.
Not surprisingly, when the caregiving stopped, those problems resolved. Women caregivers were more vulnerable than men.
This study is important, say its authors, because lack of sleep simply compounds the problems such folks are already experiencing and is, in the words of the researchers, “an under-recognized and under-treated problem”.
As someone who cares for an adult with a chronic illness, I found this study especially interesting. If a nation like Sweden, which already has in place a comprehensive healthcare program, is recognizing sleep issues among caregivers as a serious health issue, I can only begin to imagine the burden such caregiving could place on U.S. citizens who are employed full-time and caring for an aging parent, a disabled spouse or a sick child with little-to-no financial relief available.
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash