Help Your Loved One with Dementia Sleep Better
People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias may have trouble sleeping or experience disruptions in their sleep routines. They may sleep a lot or not enough or wake up often during the night. Sleep problems are also a common source of stress for caregivers who probably don’t get enough sleep if their loved ones don’t sleep.
The Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging suggest a number of tips that can help your loved one sleep better, which will also help you sleep better:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule. Try to have them go to sleep and get up at the same time, even on weekends or vacations.
- Get outdoors with them and into the sunshine early in the day, which helps to regulate the sleep cycle.
- Add some form of exercise every day; earlier in the day is better than late afternoon or evening.
- Plan activities like bathing or getting their hair cut in the morning, and schedule your bigger main meal in the middle of the day.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
- Limit daytime naps, as they may interfere with nighttime sleep.
- In the evenings, establish a relaxing routine. Dim the lights as it gets close to bedtime, read them a story or play soothing music. Avoid electronic screen time, including televisions, computers and cell phones.
- Maintain a darkened bedroom at a comfortable temperature. Provide objects that help them feel secure, like a favorite blanket or a stuffed animal.
- If your loved one wakes up, discourage staying in bed. Discourage watching television during periods of wakefulness while in bed; instead, substitute something relaxing like listening to music, touch, or aromatherapy.
- Ensure that pain is adequately treated. As Dementia progresses, communication can become a challenge; often loved ones have difficulty expressing pain and may become restless with interrupted sleep. Be sure to discuss symptoms with the medical provider if pain could be the culprit.
- Check for medication side effects that can disrupt sleep. Ask your loved one’s medical provider if medications such as stimulants or diuretics can be switched or taken at a different time of day to improve sleep.
- As a Caregiver, try to sleep when your loved one sleeps. This can help prevent burnout and feeling as though you are “always on, 24/7.”
Sometimes sleep-inducing drugs can help, but often they can cause unwelcome side effects. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that non-drug coping strategies should always be tried first.
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.