Dementia and Sleep Problems
People with dementia, especially those in the later stages of life, can often spend a lot of time sleeping. This can be worrying for friends, family, and carers. However, sleeping more and more – both during the day and night – is a common feature of later-stage dementia. As Alzheimer’s Dementia progresses, the damage to a person’s brain becomes more extensive. The person will gradually become weaker and frailer. As a result, they could find it exhausting to carry out relatively simple tasks, like communicating, eating, or trying to understand what’s going on around them.2 As their symptoms become more severe, someone with Alzheimer’s Dementia will sleep during the day.
Medication can also contribute to sleepiness. This includes some antipsychotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, and sleeping pills.3 If you’re worried about medication making someone with dementia sleepy, check with a doctor as they’ll be able to go through the side effects with you.
Sleeping disorders can also cause someone with dementia to sleep more during the day – and it doesn’t have to be related to dementia itself. If someone’s suffered from a sleeping disorder throughout their life, like Sleep Apnoea or insomnia, this can make the symptoms of dementia even worse. For example, disrupted sleep during the night and not getting the required rest will lead to grogginess and irritability during the day. This could make someone with dementia even more frustrated, and it’ll likely lead to them sleeping for longer during the day. If someone with dementia has had trouble with a sleeping disorder, let the doctor know – the more they know, the better they can treat them.
You can read more about different sleep disorders in our article, ‘Common Sleep Disorders‘, with tips for a better sleep.
What Should You Do If Someone with Dementia Is Sleeping A Lot?
If they’re in the later stages of dementia and have gradually started sleeping more, it’s likely that this is because the dementia is progressing. However, if the excessive sleeping has started more suddenly, or they don’t seem well in other ways, there could be something else causing this. If this is the case, speak to the doctor or the carer to rule out any infections or conditions that could be having a negative effect on their sleep.
Why Does Alzheimer’s Dementia Affect Sleep?
Sleep problems for people with Alzheimer’s Dementia can include:
- Sleeping during the day and being awake and restless at night.
- Becoming disorientated in the dark if they wake up to use the toilet.
- Waking up more often and staying awake longer during the night.
- Getting up in the early hours and thinking it’s daytime or time to go to work (disorientation in time).
- Not being able to tell the difference between night and day.
It’s not yet known exactly why dementia affects sleeping patterns. For some, it could be that their internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, is confused. The circadian rhythm judges what time it is and when we need to sleep, and it’s influenced by how much sunlight or darkness we’re surrounded by. Someone with Alzheimer’s Dementia could have a damaged clock – this’ll make them feel sleepy at the wrong time of day. Read more about the circadian rhythm here.
Disturbed sleep not only has a negative effect on the person’s wellbeing, but those living with them, too. When someone with dementia is awake during the night, they’ll need cared for – this disrupts the sleep of those caring for them.
Does Sleep Quality Matter for People with Alzheimer’s Dementia?
The quality of sleep for someone with dementia gradually deteriorates as the dementia progresses. They’ll tend to get less sleep, or ‘slow-wave’ sleep. ‘Slow wave’ sleep helps to keep the brain healthy and refreshed. If someone with dementia is getting less of this needed sleep, they will be tired and more frustrated during the day. Even though a person with dementia may sleep more than a typical person their age – even as much as 14 – 15 hours a day – it’s unlikely to all be good quality sleep.
Tips for A Better Sleep
Although it can be hard for someone with Alzheimer’s Dementia to get a good sleep, there are some ways they (or their carers) can try to help them sleep better.
Make sure they have plenty of sunlight and things to do during the day. Getting someone with dementia outside can be hard, especially if they’re in the later stages of dementia. However, if you can get them outside when the sun is out, this will help to regulate the circadian rhythm. This’ll make it more likely that they’ll feel sleepy at night, when it’s time to go to bed. Even getting them to sit next to a window will help. Stimulating them to do something during the day can also be a challenge, but this will also help make them tired enough to sleep during the night. It doesn’t have to be anything too big – a short walk can be enough. Gentle exercise could help them sleep, but avoid doing anything in the evening.
Have a good sleeping environment. Make sure the bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. If the room is still too bright during the night, consider blackout blinds and curtains.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine can help someone feel alert first thing in the morning, but drinking it during the day will leave someone too awake to sleep properly at night-time. Alcohol will also prevent someone from getting a deep sleep, and it can disrupt the sleep, too.
Have a relaxing routine. Something as simple as having a glass of warm milk, or having a bath or shower before bed, can help someone relax.
If they wake up during the night, remind them that’s night-time. They’ll be confused and might even try to get up if they wake during the night. However, gently remind them of where they are and that it’s time to go back to sleep.
These are tips for helping someone with dementia get a better sleep. However, the best way to help them is to consult their doctor or carer. They will know of any side effects of the medication they’re on, and they’ll also know of any warning signs in their sleep patterns. Keeping the doctor or carer up-to-date will make sure that someone with Alzheimer’s Dementia is getting the best help.