Managing Sleep Problems in a Loved One with Dementia

  • March 23, 2017

Older adults with Alzheimer’s or a similar type of dementia often suffer from sleep problems. For some it means going several days without any significant sleep, while others may sleep too much.

Common sleep problems in seniors with some form of dementia may include: 
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Napping frequently during the day 
  • Getting days and nights mixed up causing a shift in the sleep cycle
  • Sundowner’s syndrome which can make it difficult to fall asleep

Causes of Sleep Problems in Seniors with Dementia

Doctors aren’t sure what causes sleep problems in seniors with dementia. They may be caused by changes in brain chemistry, or by changes in the body’s circadian rhythms. These are the daily cycles that control our body temperature, sleep and wakefulness patterns and our metabolism. 

Circadian rhythms change as we age. These changes can be more pronounced in seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. 

Other Causes of Sleep Problems in Seniors

Sometimes sleep problems are caused by other, treatable conditions such as:
  • Depression or grief
  • Restless leg syndrome, a disease characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs
  • Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder where the person stops breathing briefly throughout the night
It’s important for a physician to rule out, or treat, any of these causes. 

Tips to Help Your Loved One Sleep Better

Studies show that sleep medications don’t typically improve sleep quality for older adults, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But there are a number of ways you can help your loved one with dementia sleep better. 

1. Keep a regular schedule. 

If you’ve raised, or are raising, children, you might remember the importance of following a regular schedule to promote healthy sleep habits. Do the same for your senior loved one. Try to wake the same time each morning, have meals at the same time, and stick to a consistent bedtime schedule, too. 

2. Keep your loved one active and busy during the day. 

If you’re a parent, you no doubt remember this one, too: “Tire ‘em out!” 

Keep your senior loved one busy with plenty of activities and exercise throughout the day, and reserve the two or three hours before bedtime for quiet activities so you can both unwind. 
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends avoiding exercise and overly stimulating activities for up to four hours before bedtime. 

3. Rule out other controllable causes of sleep problems. 

Sleeping problems may also be caused by a number of other factors, which can be controlled by the caregiver. They include:
  • Chronic pain
  • Caffeine or alcohol consumption
  • A bedroom that is too hot, too cold, or otherwise uncomfortable
  • Prescription drugs
Determine if any of these factors could be contributing to sleep problems or restlessness and what can be done to treat them. 
Pain medications or physical therapy can help alleviate pain. Alcohol and caffeine can be eliminated from the diet. Sleeping conditions can be easily altered. And a physician can suggest alternate medications if certain prescription drugs make it harder for your aging loved one to fall asleep. 

4. Create a Comfortable Environment

If your family member suffers from sleeping problems as a result of dementia, it’s important to do everything possible to encourage a good night’s sleep.
  • Use room darkening shades to block out early morning sunlight. 
  • Provide a soothing nightlight. 
  • Remove any electronics, including digital clocks and smartphones, from the room, as they have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns. 

Need Help? 

If your loved one should wake during the night, calmly usher them back to bed and soothe their fears. 

If sleep problems become too much to handle, you might consider a memory care community for your loved one. The team of experts at Five Star Senior Living is here to help your loved one get a good night’s sleep. And you can rest easy, too, knowing your loved one is getting the best care possible. Contact us for more information today. 

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