10 Tips for Helping Your Loved One With Dementia Sleep Better

how to get dementia patients to sleep at night

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Difficulty in falling and staying asleep is the most common symptom of dementia. The relationship between dementia and sleep deprivation is a prevalent cause of anxiety for family caregivers. When a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another kind of dementia struggles to get or stay asleep, it is likely that you, too, are unable to obtain an adequate amount of rest.

The inability to sleep or the inability to sleep comfortably may become a genuine nightmare, something that the vast majority of us will have experienced at some point in our lives. However, those coping with dementia may find that their failure to get a restful night’s sleep has a particularly severe impact on their quality of life and those who care for them.

This guide provides information on how to assist people living with dementia in falling asleep. You will also learn more about prevalent sleep disorders and how to encourage them to stay in bed during the night.

Reasons Your Loved One With Dementia is Having a Hard Time Sleeping

Reasons Your Loved One With Dementia is Having a Hard Time Sleeping

The typical sleep pattern might shift from one of insufficient sleep to one of excessive sleep, depending on the degree of dementia. It is not uncommon for the pattern to worsen as dementia develops; this should not be surprising. The fact that dementia might make it more challenging for a person to convey what is wrong is one factor contributing to the complexity of the situation.

For example, they may be unable to convey to you that they are experiencing discomfort. Because of this, it is of even more significance to pay careful attention to other forms of communication, such as the expressions on people’s faces and the way they move their bodies.

I have highlighted some of the potential problems that may prevent dementia patients from getting a good night’s sleep below.

1. Brain Changes

The changes that occur in a person’s brain are the fundamental reason they are unable to sleep at night when they have dementia. Leading researchers and clinicians think that dementia alters brain cells and interferes with a person’s natural circadian cycles. When an individual’s circadian rhythms are thrown off, they frequently feel confused about what time of day it is.

Because of these changes, people with dementia are more likely to grow fatigued throughout the day, take several naps, and remain awake throughout the night.

2. Sundowning

Sundowning is a behavior that frequently occurs in seniors who have dementia. It starts when the sun is beginning to set and can last all through the night.

It is characterized by increasing disorientation, agitation, anxiety, and aggressive behavior.

Because of all of these intense emotions, individuals could have trouble settling down, falling, or remaining asleep.

3. Insomnia

Insomnia affects approximately half of all senior persons and can take one of three distinct forms, including the following:

  • Having a hard time falling asleep
  • Struggling to stay asleep during the night
  • Inability to return to sleep after being awakened

Insomnia may strike anybody at any time, but people living with dementia frequently struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep night after night. Taking many naps at different times during the day might contribute significantly to insomnia.

4. Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) and other concerns with irregular movement can both contribute to the common sleep difficulties experienced by seniors living with dementia.

RLS is a disorder in which a person feels an uncontrollable need to move their legs. This urge can occur at any time throughout the day or night. Moving your legs will provide you with momentary relief from this urge, but the need will typically return a few seconds later, forcing you to move your legs once again. This persistent urge, followed by the following movement, can be an annoying problem for some, preventing them from sleeping comfortably or at all.

5. Medicines

People could be taking medications that induce sleeplessness. This is a common side effect of dementia drugs such as donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine.

These meds may also cause a person to have vivid dreams, even potentially terrifying ones. You can always discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor.

Thanks to some drugs, it may be more convenient than ever to go off to sleep. But, on the other hand, some of them have unfavorable or even serious side effects, such as sleepiness and an increased risk of falling. Thus, they are often only suggested to a person who has considerable difficulties falling or staying asleep for a limited amount of time.

6. Sleep Apnea

Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea, are another factor that may prevent people with dementia from sleeping at night. Sleep apnea is a condition that affects fifty percent of people who have been given a dementia diagnosis.

Sleep apnea is characterized by regular pauses in the individual’s breathing. This brief interruption in breathing has the potential to jolt the person awake. Symptoms include snoring loudly and/or feeling exhausted even after a full night’s sleep. Discuss with your healthcare provider any concerns related to sleep.

How to Get Your Loved One With Dementia Sleep Better?

How to Get Your Loved One With Dementia Sleep Better

There are a number of things that may be done to assist a person who has dementia, even though night time might be challenging for them. The following are some strategies that might help to develop a more healthy pattern of sleep:

1. Check for Medical Conditions

Both sleep apnea and RLS are age-related and can readily wake somebody with dementia. Watching someone sleep can help diagnose sleep apnea. This ailment causes people to halt when breathing, almost ceasing.

Restless leg syndrome causes uncontrollable leg movement, especially during the night. If your loved one has any of these ailments, visit a doctor.

2. Perfect Lighting

The bedroom should be as cozy as possible in order to help them get a good night’s sleep. At night, it’s a good idea to use blackout curtains in order to block out light from the outside. In addition, people with dementia may benefit from light therapy, according to new research.

If night wandering or frequent trips to the bathroom are a concern, you’ll need some kind of dim light to keep your loved one safe. For the best results, consider purchasing a night light with motion sensors.

3. Encourage Exercise During the Day

Assist a loved one who is dealing with dementia in getting daily physical activity. Being involved in physical exercise during the day can help with getting better sleep. Because being overly exhausted in the evening might lead to an increase in agitation, it is advisable to plan physical exercise early in the day.

4. Follow a Routine

Make it a goal to sleep and wake up at the same time every day if possible. Make an effort to develop a schedule for the evening and the morning since this will assist in communicating to them what time of day it is.

Making the environment inviting & comfortable can also help with participating in a scheduled routine, and help promote sleep. A warm shower, familiar music, the act of brushing one’s teeth, the consumption of a warm beverage, or even the aroma of lavender on one’s pillow as a result of using a scented spray are all examples of activities that might help one develop healthier sleeping patterns.

5. Review Medications

Because the adverse effects of some dementia medications might make it difficult to fall or maintain sleep, discuss with the physician treating your loved one the best time of day to administer the medication. It is important to resist the temptation to offer sleeping drugs to a person with dementia since hypnotics and other sedatives might worsen the condition.

6. Stay Hydrated

People who have dementia should be sure to drink enough water at all times. The easiest approach to keep hydrated without having to make many trips to the restroom is to drink a little bit of water multiple times throughout the day.

Dehydration can lead to more disorientation and health problems, including urinary tract infections (UTIs). Therefore, if you want to reduce the number of times they wake up throughout the night to use the restroom: it is good to encourage them to drink most of their fluids in the morning and the middle of the day.

7. Set Eating Patterns

Some people find it challenging to get to sleep after a heavy meal, particularly if the food they eat has a significant quantity of sugar. Therefore, eating smaller meals and snacks, especially ones that aren’t high in sugar can possibly help to get a better night’s rest. You might also try having dessert after lunch rather than supper and eating an early dinner.

8. Comfort if They Wake Up

Try to figure out why your loved one woke up in the middle of the night. Then, and engage in some quiet conversation. Until they are ready to go back  to sleep, keep them relaxed and repeat activities they identify with at bedtime, such as listening to quiet music.

9. No Alcohol or Caffeine Before Bed

Avoid caffeine-heavy beverages like tea and coffee in the afternoon, and be careful with other meals that may also contain stimulants. In addition, your loved one may stay awake because of some sugary drinks and chocolate. For a better night’s sleep, avoid drinking these types of drinks at least three hours before bedtime.

10. Promote Relaxation

The night time should be a time for rest and relaxation. While watching TV or reading a book might be challenging for someone with dementia, playing gentle music may be preferable. Cozy and breathable bedding is essential for a relaxing night’s sleep in a bedroom that isn’t too hot or chilly.

Wrapping Up

It takes a lot of effort to provide care to people who live with dementia and sleep issues. It is quite simple for you to feel worn out when the person with dementia is not sleeping as well as they should be. In order to provide the greatest possible care, the caregiver also has to care for their own health and well-being.

It is recommended that medications should be discussed with their healthcare provider. Methods that do not need the use of medication, such as ensuring adequate exposure to natural light, engaging in consistent physical activity, maintaining a consistent daily routine, managing chronic diseases effectively, and ensuring adequate pain management, are frequently helpful. In addition to this, these tend to increase the person’s quality of life in general.


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