Dealing with sleep problems in dementia or Alzheimer's
When your loved one with dementia is waking frequently in the night, it certainly can take it’s toll on you as the caregiver as well, depriving you of much-needed sleep. Sleep problems in seniors with dementia are common. When the brain starts to decline, so does the ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. It can be confusing for your loved one to figure out if it’s day or night. People with dementia tend to sleep less soundly at night and wake up more often. It is important to get a good night’s sleep to have energy for the day ahead. Sleep is also important because it promotes brain function by clearing out toxins in the brain while sleeping. Trying non-drug strategies to promote sleep should be tried before turning to medications. There are several ways to help your loved one sleep better.
7 ways to help someone with dementia sleep better at night
- Start with the temperature of the room they’re sleeping in. Keeping the room on the cool side at night, around 65 degrees, can help their body settle into sleep. Be sure to have plenty of blankets or pajamas to be warm, but breathing the cool air is helpful.
Getting cardio exercise during the day, such as a brisk walk, helps calm
the body later in the day. It’s a good idea to get the cardio exercise in during the first half of the day, as cardio activity promotes being awake for a few hours following. On the other hand, strengthening exercises, such as light weights, tends to have a calming effect on the body, and can be done closer to bedtime.
- The light emitted on devices such as TVs, phones, and tablets tends to mimic the light of the sun and triggers the brain into thinking it’s daytime. When unwinding in the hours before bedtime, consider reducing screen time to help promote sleep. Once in bed, the light of a night light can even trigger your brain into thinking it’s daytime and make it difficult to sleep. The room should ideally be completely dark for sleeping, however, be sure that if you get up to use the bathroom, you turn on a light before walking to avoid falling.
- If you’re loved one wakes in the night, it can be anxiety-provoking for them to lay in bed and try to force themselves to go back to sleep. Getting up and going to another room and doing something calming such as reading, a word search, or a simple puzzle until feeling tired again can help get them back on track. You might try eating a banana, as it has tryptophan in it which is a natural sedative, as well as potassium which helps keep you asleep.
- It’s not a good idea to sleep through the night in the same place you spend most of the day. For example, sleeping in the living room recliner at night makes it hard for your body to create a habit of sleeping at night. Create a good sleep habit of having them sleep in a bed, not their recliner.
- The creaking of the house or opening of doors by family can be enough to wake a light sleeper. Consider putting an air purifier, fan or another form of white noise in the bedroom to drown out those cumbersome noises.
- Enjoying a calm bedtime routine is beneficial as well. A warm bath, rocking gently in a rocking chair while flipping through a magazine, talking with loved ones, soft music, and dimmed lights can be part of a bedtime routine that helps the body unwind. Before going to bed would not be the time to watch a thrilling movie or have an intense conversation.
A final thought is to aim for regular sleep and wake times for you and your loved one to allow your body and mind plenty of time to repair itself in preparation for each new day. As you try implementing these methods with your loved one, be sure to take good care of yourself as well by having good sleep habits.