9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN01 Ageing in Europe

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Gender and Social Class Impact on Informal Caregiving Building II, C5.06

Gender and the impact of care-giving on sleep in Italy and the UK


Despite extensive research on care-giving for frail older parents, partners, and other relatives, there has been little research examining how care-giving at night impacts on carers´ sleep quality.

This paper draws on qualitative interviews with 50 women aged 40-80 in Italy, and 60 men and women aged 65+ in the UK1. The interviews focused on self-perceptions of what influences interviewees´ quality of sleep, and were not specifically designed to examine how care-giving impacts on sleep.

A major theme emerging in both countries was how care-giving adversely affected sleep. Care-giving for parents and elderly relatives had a major impact on women´s sleep in Italy. Whereas, care-giving for partners affected both older men´s and women´s sleep in the UK. We propose a typology of how care-giving affects sleep comprising: (1) Effects on sleep of providing direct physical care at night. (2) Sleep disruption or "light" sleep because of care-givers´ anticipation of having to provide physical care at night. (3) Sleep interruptions through worries and anxiety about the well-being, current ill-health, or future situation of the care-receiver. (4) The "legacy of care-giving", which interrupted carers´ sleep for lengthy periods after care-giving ceased. The paper highlights how gender influences each aspect in the UK, and differences with Italy.

The relative lack of welfare provision for frail older people in Italy is implicated in high sleep disruption associated with care-giving for parents in Italy, while in the UK the normative nature of spousal care is a key factor. We conclude that intensive co-resident care-giving for partners and other relatives can severely disrupt care-givers´ sleep, adversely affecting their well-being. The impact of care-giving on sleep has hitherto been neglected in research on informal care.

1. Funding from European Union (MCRTN-CT-2004-512362), and New Dynamics of Ageing initiative, a multidisciplinary research programme supported by AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC and MRC (RES-339-25-0009).