If you’re caring for someone who suffers from dementia, you may have noticed that they struggle to sleep at night or frequently get out of bed. However, this is a common occurrence as memory and behaviour begin to change, sleep patterns can alter along with it. There are ways you can support your loved one to help them sleep better if you follow our tips below.
Many people with dementia experience changes in their sleep patterns which are likely due to the impact on brain function which results in a disrupted circadian rhythm. Our body clock tells us when to sleep (at night) and when to wake up (in the morning). When this becomes damaged, patients with dementia may end up sleeping more during the day and less at night. Many scientists believe that cellular changes in the brain during dementia are what lead to the disruption of sleep patterns.
Getting enough sleep as a dementia patient can be a challenge, the ongoing changes to memory and the brain often result in sleepless nights. This could look like:
Many people with dementia suffer from similar problems surrounding sleep. Here are some of the most common ones so that you can identify what someone may be struggling with:
The term insomnia encompasses several sleep problems including taking a long time to fall asleep, waking up frequently and having nightmares. Essentially, it results in not having a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. People with dementia often suffer from insomnia due to medication, behaviour and mood disturbances.
Sleep apnea refers to loud snoring, choking, and other respiratory symptoms that occur during sleep. It’s been found that around 50% of dementia patients suffer from sleep apnea at some point which can lead to a lack of sleep.
RLS refers to an uncomfortable crawling or tingling sensation in your legs that’s only relieved by getting up and moving around. Often, symptoms worsen when resting, leading to disrupted and uncomfortable sleep.
This refers to mood changes, anxiety, restlessness, anger and stubbornness that can often occur in dementia patients at night or in the early evening. Towards the end of the day, people with dementia are more fatigued or confused which can lead to sundown syndrome which disrupts sleep.
REM behaviour sleep disorder (RBD) causes someone to physically act out their dreams or sleep talk and shout. This can sometimes be dangerous if they are violent in their sleep or fall down. REM sleep disorder can be common in dementia patients.
Sleep is so important as it gives our bodies time to recover and supports normal brain function. For someone with dementia to be losing sleep can only add further to their confusion, this is why it’s important to help improve their sleep in the following ways:
There are certain medications and treatments available for dementia patients, however, these should only ever be administered by professional specialist carers. Examples of medications used to treat dementia sleep problems include:
Non-drug methods of improving sleep should always be attempted first as drug interventions can have side effects.
Suffering from sleep problems is always distressing, especially for those with dementia who are already struggling with memory changes. The above methods are a great way to help regulate sleep and maintain a healthy schedule.