Sleeplessness: How to help someone with Dementia Sleep

Written by Active Minds on Friday the 15th of April 2016.

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We all need a healthy amount of sleep and when you are living with dementia, it can be especially difficult to achieve this. Over 40% of people with dementia experience sleep disturbances which can mean waking up during the night numerous times, making it difficult to have an uninterrupted night of sleep. Sleeping well is one of the cornerstones of living a happy and healthy life, so having a poor quality of sleep can take its toll on the rest of the day and can have a cumulative effect over time.

Sleeping may become more difficult for someone living with dementia for various reasons. One of the reasons is that dementia can interrupt biological pathways that help to control sleep patterns. Medication to help manage dementia can also be a cause of disturbed sleep. General agitation and confusion can be common at certain stages of dementia, so this can prevent people from being able to fall asleep or enjoy a full night of sleep too. The change in sleep pattern can mean that someone wakes up more often and at erratic times. Sometimes people living with dementia can be sleepier and drowsy during the day, but when it gets to night-time they become more alert and find it more difficult to sleep.

So, how can you help someone with dementia to improve their quality of sleep or help to remove some of the obstacles stopping them from enjoying a night of rest?

  • Help someone keep to a routine and try to stick to similar sleeping and waking times. Encouraging someone to stay active during the days, with limited naps and maintaining similar eating and sleeping times will hopefully lead to tiredness in the evening times.
  • Encouraging someone living with dementia to exercise during the day to keep them active and exert some of their energy is important. Pick exercises that are suitable for the person, such as seated exercises or go for a walk.
  • Staying active does not have to mean taking part in traditional exercise and activities. Doing some gardening or cleaning around the house are all ways of keeping busy and active.
  • Engage in mentally stimulating activities during the day as well, so that someone can relax and exercise their cognitive function. Hopefully this will help to tire someone mentally so they will be more of a chance that they will sleep later one. Activities such as jigsaw puzzles and painting can give some sensory stimulation and give someone something to concentrate on.
  • Ensure that someone living dementia has a relaxing, comfortable bedroom. Removing clutter, setting a comfortable temperature and minimising noise and distractions means that they are in an environment that encourages sleep instead of inhibiting it.
  • Explore with a GP whether medication could be affecting someone living with dementia’s sleep. They could recommend an alternative medication or prescribe something else to help make sleeping easier.
  • Avoiding caffeine and any other stimulants is a good idea because it enables your body to wind down and tire in a natural way. Someone might be more alert before they go to sleep if they have been drinking caffeine throughout the day. Non-caffeinated alternatives to coffee and tea are available.