Sleep Disruption – Dementia

Changes within the brain of older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s often result in a disruption of normal sleep habits which can wreak havoc with getting proper rest for the individual and caregiver alike.

According to the University of Alberta sleep research, as many as 40 to 70 per cent of people with dementia also have sleep disorders.  Sleep problems can interfere with memory, cognition and overall daily function and may increase the risk of falls.  Lack of sleep can also lead to depression, irritability and aggression in dementia patients.

Someone with dementia may wake several times during the night, have difficulty falling back asleep and wander or call out.   Night after night of these disturbances can have a profound effect on caregivers.  When nighttime sleep is inadequate,  sleeping during the day can become a habit and result in a reversing of sleep patterns.  It can also lead to periods of high anxiety and restlessness in the late afternoon or early evening, dubbed “sundowning”.

Other medical problems such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and depression can also interfere with a good night’s sleep.  Consult a doctor about any of these conditions.

While medication to treat sleep disturbances in dementia patients is not usually recommended because of the risk of falls, increased confusion and a loss of independence, there are some strategies which may help.

A Good Night’s Rest

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
  • Get regular exercise – bright natural light may help people sleep
  • Keep the bedroom a comfortable temperature
  • Use a nightlight if it helps but not too bright (can interfere with sleep)
  • Remove daytime clothing at bedtime out of sight to avoid trigger to get dressed
  • Keep mealtimes regular and offer a light snack before sleep
  • Avoid taking medications late in the day that might keep one awake
  • Do take pain medications, if prescribed, at night
  • If woken at night – use quiet reading or music to relax
  • Gently guide back to bed
  • Avoid television, it may be too stimulating
  • Try to stay calm and avoid arguing
  • The use of a monitoring device at night may help caregivers rest

For more information about sleep and dementia visit  .