Dementia, Sleep, and Getting Through the Night

If you’re living with someone who has sleep problems related to dementia, you’re probably not getting all that much sleep yourself.

According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 25% of people with mild to moderate dementia have a sleep disturbance. That number rises to 50% for people with severe dementia.

This often takes the form of excessive sleepiness during the day and insomnia with difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at night. People with dementia may also awaken frequently during the night and wake up prematurely in the morning.

Reasons for dementia-associated sleep problems

The Sleep Foundation reports that the part of the brain that serves as our internal clock is directly affected by Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. Not only that, people with dementia experience less deep and REM sleep as their condition progresses.

A number of other things can also disturb someone’s sleep patterns when they have dementia:

  • Mental and physical exhaustion at the end of the day
  • Disorientation
  • Reduced lighting and increased shadows, which can cause people with dementia to become confused and afraid
  • Sleep apnea (more common in people with dementia)

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What to do about it

So, what can you do to help someone with dementia sleep at night? Here are a few suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Treat underlying problems like depression, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome
  • Establish regular times for eating, waking, and going to bed
  • Avoid stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at night. Also avoid TV.
  • Encourage physical activity during the day
  • Discourage afternoon napping 
  • Set a peaceful mood in the evening
  • Check with their doctor to see whether some of their medications may be causing insomnia

But what if, despite your best efforts, the person still won’t go to sleep? For family caregivers, this can be the biggest challenge, especially when they’re tired themselves.

Kathleen Brown – whose mother has dementia – offers several practical tips in a post entitled “How I Get My Mom to Bed” on Alz Live. She concentrates on five strategies “to get us all unstuck and tucked in.”

  1. Don’t argue with Mom. Agree with her version of reality.
  2. Use actions, not words, to calm her anxieties.
  3. If she refuses to go to bed, be ready to back off and try again.
  4. Old behaviors and routines can help Mom cooperate.
  5. Talk works well as a distraction when I’m maneuvering Mom in a direction she doesn’t want to go.

She goes into more detail in the post, giving examples of how she uses these strategies in practice.

What if nothing works?

Although these tips can be helpful, nothing is foolproof. If you’ve tried them all and you’re still woken up at night by a loved one who can’t sleep because of their dementia, you’re more than likely exhausted. Beyond exhausted, even.

How long can you keep this up? It’s a fair question, even if you may feel guilty for asking it. 

Is there someone else in your family who can take over from you some nights so that you get uninterrupted sleep at least some of the time? 

If not, is it time to consider moving your loved one to a retirement community with memory care where someone is available throughout the night to calm them and make sure they stay safe?

This is a big step to consider. At Sinceri, we get it. We’ve spoken with hundreds of families in your very situation. Many are reluctant to consider memory care, but those who do often express relief after their loved one moves into one of our memory care communities. Relief that they can now sleep through the night. And relief knowing their family member with dementia is well looked after 24/7.

Are you struggling because someone you love doesn’t sleep because of their dementia? Contact us at a community near you, we’ll be happy to assist you. New call-to-action

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