Sleep and Dementia


If you’re a caregiver to a person living with dementia, you know how important a good night’s sleep is for both of you. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get.

The effect of dementia on sleep is a complex issue with many factors involved. Scientists and doctors don’t know why dementia causes sleep disturbances, but it seems to have something to do with the changes to the brain. Different sleep issues are associated with different types of dementia.

Dementia may affect the sleep-wake cycle that regulates when you are awake and when you are sleepy. People who experience issues with their circadian rhythm may have problems falling asleep at night and staying asleep. They may also experience extreme drowsiness during the day and want to have frequent naps. The person who is unable to sleep at night may be prone to wandering which can cause a caregiver to worry about where they might go or what will happen while they’re awake. This type of disturbance is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

A person with Lewy body dementia may have a type of sleep disturbance where they act out their dreams. This is often considered one of the early signs of this condition.

What are the consequences of poor sleep on a person with dementia? Sleep issues are often associated with agitation in the late afternoon or evening sometimes referred to as sundowning. Behavioral problems and irritation may increase for the person which is easy to understand as you can relate to how you feel when you’re tired.

Unfortunately, sleep issues are frequently the reason for moving a person from their home to a long-term care facility. It results in severe stress, and caregivers find it extremely difficult to cope with a person who doesn’t sleep at night.

What can you do to help a person get better quality sleep?

Most of the recommendations around sleep are associated with lifestyle changes that you can make.

Some steps that may help include:

  • Exercise – Make sure the person with dementia has physical activity during the day. People are encouraged to do light exercise and take regular walks which can help improve sleep.

  • Outdoor light – Exposure to bright light in the morning may help regulate a person’s circadian rhythm.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine after dinner.

  • A consistent sleep schedule – Strive to go to bed and get up at the same time each day.

  • Keep the home well lit in the evening – this can help eliminate shadows which can seem scary to a person with dementia.

  • A comfortable environment – Make sure the bedroom is dark and the temperature is cool.

  • Provide nightlights to guide the person to the bathroom so they don’t get disoriented or lost.

If these solutions don’t make a difference, another option to consider is hiring in-home help overnight to be with your loved one so that you can get your ZZZ’s.

A lack of good quality sleep can take a toll on both the person living with dementia and the caregiver. Be sure to speak to your doctor if you or the person you care for are experiencing sleep issues.

Questions? Kimbrough Law may be able to help. Just give us a call at 706.850.6910.

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