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Alzheimer’s and Sleep Problems

Sleep problems and dementia are usually a package deal. You can help everyone get a good night’s sleep by understanding what contributes to sleep problems for people with Alzheimer’s.

Why is sleeping difficult?

Seniors often have problems sleeping, but people with Alzheimer’s usually have an even tougher time. Dementia can reverse the sleep/wake cycle, causing nighttime restlessness and daytime drowsiness. As dementia progresses, this cycle may become increasingly erratic, with naps replacing a long sleep.

Other health problems (like depression, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome) can also contribute to sleep disturbances.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

Sleep disturbances caused by dementia are hard on everyone involved. Here are some suggestions for better sleep:

Treat other conditions. If you suspect that an underlying condition (pain, depression, sleep apnea, etc) is behind sleep problems, consult a doctor. Treatment may resolve the issue.

Sunlight. Exposure to a few hours of bright sunlight in the morning can improve sleep at night.

Limit alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol can disturb sleep patterns and may cause further anxiety and confusion. Caffeine is well known for its contribution to sleeplessness. Switch to decaf and non-alcoholic beverages.

Research medications. Determine what time of day the medications being taken by the person with Alzheimer’s should be taken. Drugs with a stimulating effect should, ideally, be taken in the morning. Evening for those that cause drowsiness.

Physical activity. Be sure that the day includes physical activity, like walks and other exercise, which helps promote better sleep at night. Schedule this for earlier in the day, as physical activity at bedtime may delay sleep.

Limit naps. If a nap is needed, be sure it’s short and not too late in the day.

Have a bedtime routine. Doing the same things in the same order every night, such as brushing teeth, using the toilet, etc, can be relaxing and sets the stage for better sleep. If bathing is difficult, do it at a different time of day.

Make the bedroom appealing. Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature. Turn on a night light. If they have security objects, like a favorite blanket or pillow, make sure they are always there.

Waking during the night

If a person with dementia wakes up during the night and is upset, stay calm. Arguing won’t help. Ask them what they need. Remind them that it’s nighttime and everyone should be asleep. If you find them wandering in the house, gently guide them back to bed.

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