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  • Writer's pictureTroyer & Good, PC

How to Manage Sleep Problems in Dementia

Updated: Dec 17, 2018

sleep problems dementia

Many times those with dementia struggle to sleep well. This can be very frustrating for the sufferers and stressful for the caregivers. When the person with Alzheimer's struggles to sleep, the caregiver may also struggle to sleep. In addition, not getting enough sleep can worsen a person's behavior and mindset, especially if he has Alzheimer's.

Sleep problems may not be totally curable but can often be improved with time and effort. First, we'll identify some common causes of sleep problems in the elderly. Then we'll look at some practical steps you can take to improve your elderly loved one's sleep.

Common Causes of Sleep Problems

There are several reasons why seniors with dementia may have sleep problems:

  1. Changes in sleep due to aging. As you age, your sleep habits change. Sleep tends to become lighter and more fragmented, which means you are more likely to be woken up or disturbed in the night.

  2. Chronic medical conditions and medications affect sleep. Many with dementia have additional chronic health problems that make sleep difficult. Sometimes treating these health issues can improve sleep. For example, stomach-related conditions or chronic pain from arthritis can make sleeping difficult. Or urinary conditions may cause seniors to get up more during the night to use the restroom. Also, medication side effects can sometimes disrupt sleep.

  3. Sleep-related disorders often become more frequent with aging. Some sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome become more common in seniors. These can cause poor sleep in the elderly.

  4. Dementia changes sleep. The brain deterioration associated with demented tends to affect the way the brain sleeps. This usually means less deep sleep and more time awake at night. Furthermore, Lewy body and Parkinsons's are associated with REM sleep behavior disorder, which can cause violent movements during sleep.

How to Improve Sleep Problems in Dementia

While sleep problems may be due to a number of reasons, there are some tips that can improve sleep.

  1. Light during the day. Bright outdoor light (or even a special lamp) can help keep the body's inner clock on track. For seniors who are mostly homebound, open windows or special lamps can help the senior sleep better at night.

  2. Increase physical activity during the day. Walking during the day can help improve your sleep at night.

  3. Keep it dark at night. Keeping it dark and quiet at night can help cue your body for sleep. This is especially important to have in a nursing home, which has active staff at night.

  4. Establish a regular bedtime routine and consistent wake-up time. A regular routine can help maintain better sleep. It is ideal to have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time if possible. A consistent wake-up time will be most helpful though.

While managing sleep problems in seniors can be an arduous undertaking, these tips can help improve sleep quality for a healthier and happier life.


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