Managing Sleep Problems in Dementia Patients

When you or a loved one is diagnosed with a form of dementia, one of the most common issues our in-home caregivers recognize is getting patients to fall asleep. Sleep problems and dementia tend to go hand in hand and are a common source of stress for dementia caregivers.

When your loved one has dementia and has trouble sleeping, it could affect your sleep as well. Making sure your loved one can receive the rest they need will have a positive impact during this time of their life. So, how can you better manage these sleep problems?

What Are the Most Common Dementia Sleep Issues?

While these changes are common in older adults, many seniors experience changes in their sleep quality even without any form of dementia. From the start of middle age, older adults’ total sleep time will decrease by approximately 30 minutes every decade. If your loved one has dementia, they may experience some of the following:

Difficulty falling or staying asleep – This can be caused by a number of issues, including sleep-cycle problems where the body is not primed for bedtime, sleeping too much during the day, symptoms of insomnia, or even side effects of medication that make them drowsy. 

Sundown syndrome – This refers to confusion, anxiety, agitation, or aggression occurring in the late afternoon and into the night, which can also lead to pacing or wandering around.

Breathing disorders during sleep – Disorders such as sleep apnea, can affect up to 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep apnea causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start. Some symptoms of sleep apnea can include loud snoring, difficulty staying asleep (insomnia) or daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia) and irritability.

What Are the Causes of Dementia Sleep Problems? 

According to the NIH, and estimated 70% of people with cognitive impairment have some form of sleep disturbance. However, experts do not understand exactly why dementia can affect sleep. The changes in the brain associated with dementia appear to affect the structure of the circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle individuals go through within a 24-hour period. 

Other factors that could contribute to sleeping problems include less exposure to sunlight. It’s important to get the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D, which can help your body create melatonin to help you sleep.

Chronic pain can also be a contributing factor, as any physical ailment can cause your loved one to have difficulty falling and staying asleep during the night.

Additionally, an environment that doesn’t contribute to sleepiness can also cause sleeping problems. A room with too much light, many distractions, or is too hot or cold, etc. 

It’s also important to pay attention to dietary choices, especially if they consume a lot of alcohol or caffeine, as these are classed as stimulants and will stay in the system for at least 12 hours.

How Can People With Dementia Sleep Better at Night? 

If you are looking after someone with dementia, improving their sleep is an important priority. You can do this through the following approaches:

  • Create a soothing bedtime environment, making sure that their room is set up to promote good sleep. It should be a dark environment and have a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Treat the symptoms of chronic pain. For example, if sleep apnea is disturbing their sleep, medical treatments could potentially help to reduce any long-term issues that could be obstructing their sleep quality. 
  • Being aware of the side effects of any medication they are taking. Some medications act as diuretics or stimulants which can interfere with sleep. If possible, change medications or make sure they are taken earlier in the day. 
  • Get more sunlight. Getting bright light soon after waking up can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. When it is closer to bedtime, dim the lights in the bedroom to promote the body’s formation of melatonin. When the body starts to adjust to the day and night, this will help people with dementia to “get their bearings.” Typically, you can see the benefits after a few days.
  • Encourage physical activity during the day. It’s important to schedule physical activity for earlier in the day, as being excessively tired later on could cause restlessness and agitation, which could further hinder their sleep.

Sleep is such an important function, but we can almost take it for granted. When you are trying your best to make your loved one comfortable, sleep has as much to do with quality as does with quantity.

It is not easy to remember everything to ensure your loved one has the care they need, which is why Kansas City Home Care works hard to provide a comprehensive level of care to make sure they are as happy and comfortable as they can be. If you want more information, please reach out to us on our contact page