It is common for a person with dementia to spend a lot of time sleeping. This is especially true for the later stages of dementia. As dementia progresses, the damage to the brain becomes more extensive and they gradually become weaker and frailer over time. But an improved night’s sleep can help the days to be more manageable. Here are our tips to help people with dementia sleep better.
Why does dementia affect sleep?
It is not completely understood why dementia affects sleeping patterns. It may be that the parts of the brain that control the sleep and wake cycle become damaged. It may also be because the internal ‘biological clock’ becomes damaged making the person sleepy at the wrong time of day.
Sleep problems are very common for people with dementia. They include:
- sleeping during the day and being awake and restless during the night.
- becoming disoriented in the dark if they wake up in the night.
- waking up more often and staying awake longer during the night.
- getting up in the early hours and thinking it’s day time or time to go out.
- Not being able to tell the difference between night and day.
This disruption in sleep can make life more difficult for people with dementia. Simple tasks can feel exhausting, increase daytime naps, and compound the issue of sleepless nights. Often medication is prescribed to aid sleep but the side effects from them can cause other problems.
It’s easy for someone with dementia to end up completely reversing their sleeping patterns from night to day. But, by establishing some good habits, it is possible to help someone with dementia to sleep better.
Top tips for people with dementia to sleep better
Spend time in natural daylight
Spending time outside is known to improve sleep yet it’s common for many people with dementia to spend most of their time indoors. Keep it simple. A walk around the block or morning coffee in the garden is a good start.
Avoid daytime naps
It’s common for people with dementia to nap during the day but too much daytime sleep can affect their ability to stay asleep at night. If naps are necessary try encouraging them to nap before or just after lunch. Naps earlier in the day will have less of an effect on night time sleep. Also try to keep naps short of less than one hour.
Consider the effects of food
There may be a link between the timing of meals, the food eaten and how well they sleep.
It may be beneficial to keep meals in the evening fairly light and have a larger meal earlier in the day. Try to avoid sugary treats that can cause large spikes and dips in blood sugar through the night. The dips in blood sugar can cause people to wake.
Consider the effects of drink
Avoid caffeine if possible, especially after lunchtime. It’s best to avoid alcohol if possible too as it negatively affects sleep quality. Consider if they are drinking a lot of fluids right before bed as this may be causing more night time wakings.
Having a nightly routine and a comfortable place to sleep
A nightly bedtime routine is good for everyone, especially those with dementia. Here are some things to consider:
- A warm bath or shower to begin the evening wind down.
- Close the curtains and put a soft lamp on.
- Ensure the bedroom is a comfortable temperature (18-21 degrees).
- Switching off the TV an hour before bed.
- Keep mobile phones, tablets or computers out of room or on flight mode to prevent overstimulation.
- Ensure the bed is comfortable with appropriate pillows and blankets.
- Ensure sleepwear is comfortable.
- Check incontinence wear if needed and ensure it’s dry to start the night.
- Have an easy-to-read clock next to the bed which can help orientate them when they wake.
Choosing the correct care is an important decision and our experienced team is here to help every step of the way. If you would like to find out more about live-in care for a loved one with dementia, either for now or in the future, please contact Eximius. We’d love to help you. You may also find this article helpful: Supporting our clients after a stroke.