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Dementia And Sleep Problems: How To Help A Loved One With Dementia Get A Better Night of Sleep

Difficulty sleeping and dementia often go hand-in-hand. If you’re taking care of a loved one with dementia, a better understanding of what contributes to sleep problems and how to promote a better night’s sleep can help you improve your loved one’s quality of life.

While many seniors experience changes in their quality of sleep or the number of hours they spend asleep, sleeping problems are even more common in people with dementia. The severity of sleep disturbances may vary depending on the stage of their disease, but sleep problems associated with dementia tend to get worse as the condition progresses.

A person with dementia may experience the following sleep problems:

Difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep

People with dementia wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. When they cannot sleep, they may wander, lie restless, or yell or call out to somebody else.

Sundown syndrome

Sundown syndrome refers to increased confusion, agitation, anxiety, and aggression that typically begins in the late afternoon, in the evening or during the night. It’s common in people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and can contribute to problems with sleep.

Problems with movement during sleep

Restless leg syndrome is a disorder in which an unpleasant crawling or tingling sensation in the legs causes an overwhelming urge to move them. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder makes people act out their dream.

Problems with breathing during sleep

Sleep apnea affects a high percentage of people with dementia. It causes breathing to stop and start during sleep.

Doctors and researchers are not exactly sure why dementia affects sleep but changes in the brain associated with dementia seem to affect the structure of sleep and the circadian rhythm, which helps regulate the physical, mental, and behavioral changes the body goes through in 24 hours.

Sleep disturbances can take a toll on both you and your loved one with dementia, but fortunately, there are some ways in which you can help them to get adequate rest and therefore improve their overall mood, health, and quality of life. Here are some ways to help a loved one with dementia get a better night’s sleep.

Treat Underlying Conditions

In some cases, conditions such as depression, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome can cause sleep problems. Treating chronic pain can also improve your loved one’s sleep. If you think there may be an underlying issue, always consult with a doctor.

Create A Soothing Environment

Make sure your loved one’s room is comfortable and is set up to promote good sleep. The room should be dark, quiet, and cool (between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit is ideal). Help your loved one relax by reading to them or playing soothing music if they enjoy it.

Limit Daytime Sleeping

People with dementia often doze off during the day. As this may make falling asleep at night even more difficult, it should be discouraged. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule is best. Try to create a routine and maintain regular times for eating, waking up, and going to bed — ideally your loved one should go to bed at the same time each night.

Encourage Physical Activity During The Day

Help your loved one with dementia get some daily exercise. For instance, taking a walk together in the morning is a great idea. Try to schedule these activities early in the day because being excessively tired in the evening may increase agitation and make falling asleep more difficult. Make sure your loved one doesn’t exercise for at least four hours before going to bed.

Avoid Stimulants

Stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine may disrupt sleep and should be discouraged if your loved one is struggling with sleep. At the very least discourage usage of these after a certain time of day.

What to do when a loved one wakes up during the night?

When a person with dementia wakes during the night, it’s easy to get upset as you might be exhausted yourself. However, try to always stay calm and don’t argue with them as they might sense your stress and become more agitated. Try to find out what they may need — night-time agitation might be caused by some kind of discomfort or pain. Try to find the source of the problem and make your loved one comfortable. Gently remind them that it’s night-time and they need to sleep. If possible, don’t do everything alone. Make sure to have family members or friends or a professional caregiver around to help support you.

When taking care of a loved one with dementia, it can be difficult to decide what you can manage yourself and when external help is needed. Take our 5 Minute Quiz to assess key warning signs and confidently take the next step in caring for your loved one.

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