How to Effectively Manage Sleep Problems with Dementia

Sleep issues are a common occurrence for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Unfortunately, they then become an issue for caregivers and everyone else involved in the care of the individual. When the person you’re caring for doesn’t sleep well, you don’t sleep well, which makes everyone involved tired, cranky and overall not in their best form. “Sleep plays an important role in cognitive function,” says Robin Crum, Executive Director of YourLife™ of Pensacola, a Memory Care community in Pensacola, FL. “Not getting enough of it can worsen the mindset and behavior of someone with memory issues. Fortunately, these issues can be reversed by simply getting enough sleep. We’ve seen residents improve in so many ways when they get a good night’s sleep – something that’s important for all of us!

What Causes Sleep Issues?

It doesn’t help that sleep issues are a common symptom of simple aging. As we get older, we spend less time in deep REM sleep, which causes our sleeping patterns to become lighter and more fragmented. Research has shown that the total amount of time we sleep decreases 28 minutes per decade, starting sometime in our midlives. Lighter sleep means that seniors wake up more often and more easily due to a variety of factors, such as a less-than-ideal sleeping situation, pain from arthritis or another disorder or noises at night. Here are a few of the common causes why a senior’s sleep may be disrupted on a regular basis:

  • Stomach-related issues like gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Heart and lung conditions, such as COPD or chronic health issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Mood issues like depression or anxiety
  • Overactive bladders or other urinary conditions
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Drinking too much alcohol, which has been proven to disrupt sleep
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome

Diagnosing Sleep Problems

While it’s fairly easy to determine if someone is having sleep issues, it takes a little more effort to figure out why they’re happening. Most issues have more than one cause, so it may take some trial and error to help you or a loved one get back into a pattern of good, deep sleep. Once you’ve noticed sleep issues, the first step is to visit the doctor, who can help determine what kind of sleep-related issues you or a loved one are having, and what can be done about them. Prior to visiting the doctor, ask yourself or your loved one these 22 questions to evaluate the level of sleep issues. They may take a little time to gather the information, which is why it’s important to be prepared before visiting a physician.

  1. What time do you normally go to bed at night? What time do you normally wake up in the morning?
  2. Do you often have trouble falling asleep at night?
  3. About how many times do you wake up at night?
  4. If you do wake up during the night, do you usually have trouble falling back asleep?
  5. Does your bed partner say (or are you aware) that you frequently snore, gasp for air or stop breathing?
  6. Does your bed partner say (or are you aware) you kick or thrash about while asleep?
  7. Are you aware that you ever walk, eat, punch, kick or scream during sleep?
  8. Are you sleepy or tired during much of the day?
  9. Do you usually take one or more naps during the day?
  10. Do you usually doze off without planning to during the day?
  11. How much sleep do you need to feel alert and function well?
  12. Are you currently taking any type of medication or other preparation to help you sleep?
  13. Do you have the urge to move your legs or do you experience uncomfortable sensations in your legs during rest or at night?
  14. Do you have to get up often to urinate during the night?
  15. If you nap during the day, how often and for how long?
  16. How much physical activity or exercise do you get daily?
  17. Are you exposed to natural outdoor light most days?
  18. What medications do you take, and at what time of day and night?
  19. Do you suffer any uncomfortable side effects from your medications?
  20. How much caffeine (eg, coffee, tea, cola) and alcohol do you consume each day/night?
  21. Do you often feel sad or anxious?
  22. Have you suffered any personal losses recently?

Based on the answers to the above questions, a doctor should be able to determine the overarching reason (or reasons) for the sleep issues, and can build a plan for improving the sleep issues. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are probably the biggest reason why an individual’s sleep patterns change. These diseases affect the brain, hijacking the body’s circadian rhythm and causing less deep REM sleep overall. Certain dementias and diseases like Parkinson’s have an additional disorder known as REM sleep behavior disorder, which is when the senior experiences violent movements during sleep that inhibit rest.

How to Effectively Manage Sleep Problems in People with Dementia

As with everything related to dementia, there isn’t one exact approach to help improve sleep issues. However, there are some proven techniques that can help caregivers improve the sleep of those they care for (which then, of course, results in better sleep for you). Some of these include:

  1. Exercise every day, which helps improve physical function and helps tire the individual out in a beneficial way. Studies have shown that even just taking a walk every day can improve nighttime sleep for individuals with dementia.
  2. Get outside or use light therapy. Natural, outdoor light triggers our circadian rhythms, helping us regulate our sleep patterns. Being outside or in natural light for an hour a day can cause a vast improvement in sleep issues. If your loved one can’t get outside for that amount of time, consider buying a specialized light and use bright light therapy.
  3. Make the bedroom a haven for sleeping. Keeping the bedroom dark and quiet at night, removing any factors that could interrupt sleep, will help seniors fall asleep and stay that way. Consider using nightlights to help the senior navigate for when they get up to use the bathroom. This will avoid harsh light that can wake them up and cause them to stay awake at night.
  4. Have a regular bedtime routine. Routines are incredibly important for maintaining good sleep. Set the mood in the evening by reducing noise levels and lowering lights to create a peaceful, quiet atmosphere. Try and have the individual go to bed at the same time every night, as well as wake up at a regular time.

These techniques can help handle issues at any stage of the disease, although it’s best to begin implementing them as early as possible once someone is diagnosed, or as soon as a sleep issue is recognized. A consistent, familiar routine is your best plan of attack against sleep issues at any stage of dementia – and for everyone overall! For more information about managing sleep problems for people with dementia, please contact our team today at 850-898-3334.

The Memory Care Your Loved One Deserves.

Offering the very best in Memory Care, YourLife™ of Pensacola was designed specifically with residents in mind. We’ve created a community where residents can define their own lifestyle, based on their preferences, needs and story, all while having the peace of mind of 24-hour support and the freedom to define their own lifestyles. Because we focus solely on Memory Care, all of our resources and attention are on catering to each resident’s needs while providing unequaled peace of mind for families. Our licensed nurses and YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide personally inspired care and support, no matter what your needs. With such dedicated care, our residents have the support they need to live as independently and engaged as possible. At YourLife™ of Pensacola, YourStory comes to life. Whether you want to enjoy our exclusive activities and YourStory programming, spend time exploring our services and amenities, relax in our easy-to-navigate Memory Care neighborhoods and living areas or try something new, the choice is entirely up to you. Contact us to learn more!

Call us at 850-898-3334 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.