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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

How Does Dementia Affect Sleep Patterns?

Updated: Apr 10

As the sun sets, peculiar behaviors begin to unfold. Dad's anxiety spikes after dinner, leading to wandering; late-night sleep disturbances become frequent, and the next day, Grandma's apathy escalates to the point where she nods off during meals. Mom, too, embarks on nocturnal wanderings, meandering through neighbors' gardens and plucking flowers. Days and nights blur, leaving us concerned about their safety and well-being. These nighttime incidents compel caregivers to seek solutions, turning to devices, monitors, and GPS technology. What's causing these disruptions? Are they common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? And how can we prevent such disturbances while ensuring a restful night's sleep for our loved ones with dementia?


Dementia brings about physical changes in the brain, impacting sleep patterns. Individuals with dementia often struggle to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, experiencing difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night, and increased daytime sleepiness. Consequently, they wake up feeling unrested, exacerbating symptoms over time. Caregivers may find this sleep disturbance challenging to manage.


Various factors contribute to sleep disturbances in dementia. Aging-related changes in the brain's sleep-regulating regions, coupled with disruptions to the body clock, can lead to irregular sleep-wake cycles. Environmental factors, such as exposure to bright light during the day and darkness at night, play a crucial role in maintaining these cycles. Additionally, comorbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression, along with medications used to manage these conditions, can further disrupt sleep.


Engagement in meaningful physical, mental, and social activities throughout the day is essential to promote nighttime sleep. Without adequate stimulation, individuals with dementia may resort to long daytime naps, making it challenging to sleep at night. Furthermore, nighttime awakenings can trigger confusion and anxiety, leading to attempts to resume daytime routines, such as preparing for work or attending to familial responsibilities.


For caregivers, managing nighttime disturbances can be stressful, particularly when safety concerns arise. Implementing strategies to address sleep disorders associated with dementia is crucial:

  1. Establish a Consistent Routine: Maintain regular sleep and wake times to reinforce the body's internal clock.

  2. Circadian Rhythm: Ensure your loved one has access to the outdoors, particularly in the morning between 10 AM and noon, to support their natural circadian rhythm, maintain optimal melatonin levels, and promote healthy body clock functioning.

  3. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Ensure the bedroom is conducive to sleep, with minimal noise, light disturbance and lavender oil body cream.

  4. Promote Daytime Activity: Encourage physical and mental engagement during the day to reduce daytime napping.

  5. Monitor Medications: Consult healthcare providers to assess and adjust medications that may interfere with sleep.

  6. Address Anxiety and Agitation: Employ relaxation techniques or gentle activities to alleviate nighttime anxiety and confusion.

  7. Ensure Safety Measures: Implement safeguards such as monitors, and bed alerts to prevent wandering or accidents during nighttime awakenings.

  8. Limit Stimulants: Minimize consumption of heavy sweets, caffeine and alcohol, especially in the afternoon and evening, as they can disrupt sleep patterns.

  9. Establish Wind-Down Routine: Encourage calming activities before bedtime, such as reading or listening to soothing music, to signal the body that it's time to sleep.

  10. Consider Light Therapy: Use bright light therapy in the morning to regulate sleep-wake cycles and improve daytime alertness.

 

By understanding the complexities of sleep disturbances in dementia and implementing targeted interventions, caregivers can enhance the quality of life for their loved ones while promoting restful sleep. For a deeper dive into how dementia impacts sleep patterns and how to manage dementia symptoms, refer to my book "Taming the Chaos of Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide to Interventions that Make a Difference."


Sleep Disturbance for those with Dementia
Sleep Deprivation in Dementia

Barbara Huelat, a dynamic force in healthcare design, author, and speaker, generously imparts her expertise in her latest publication, "Taming the Chaos of Dementia." Drawing from her profound understanding and passion for the subject, she delivers practical wisdom on navigating dementia care with empathy and skill, transforming this complex challenge into an empowering journey. Dive into Barbara’s world at https://barbarahuelat.com for an enriching experience.

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