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Dementia affects a patient’s sleep pattern and this can be a source of stress for caregivers. A disruption in the patient’s sleep means that the caregiver might probably not get enough sleep.

Dementia patients experience sundowning which makes them feel anxious, confused, agitated and aggressive. This makes it difficult for them to sleep normally and could also result in complicated health conditions.

Insomnia is also common among dementia patients making it difficult to maintain a sleeping pattern or fall asleep.

Movement problems during rest periods can also result in sleeping problems. Patients tend to experience restless leg syndrome where they have an uncomfortable urge to move their legs while sleeping. Rapid eye movement is also another sleep disorder that could make patients act their dreams out.

Sleep apnea contributes to sleeping problems as well. Patients could experience breathing difficulties making it challenging for them to sleep. It is estimated that 50% of Alzheimer’s patients have sleep apnea.

Causes of Dementia Related Sleep Problems

  • Mental and Physical Fatigue at the End of the Day
  • Less Exposure to Natural Light
  • Chronic Pain
  • Disruptive Environment
  • Diet Extremes Such as Excess Alcohol or Caffeine
  • Side Effects of Medication
  • Internal Body Imbalances (Changes in the Body Clock)
  • A Disruption in the Sleep and Wake Patterns

Tips to Help Dementia Patients Sleep Better at Night

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  • Check and Treat Other Medical Conditions

Patients could be dealing with other medical conditions such as chronic pain, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. It is therefore important to visit a physician so as to get help with these medical conditions.

  • Review the Current Treatment

Dementia patients take a number of medication and some of these could be diuretics or stimulants that interrupt their sleeping patterns. Consult their physician to either change the time of day the medication is taken or for them to offer alternatives that will improve the patient’s sleep.

  • Limit Day Time Sleep

Avoid long naps during the day as they could affect the patient’s sleep at night. This could result in insomnia. Encourage short naps or completely stop day time sleep especially in the afternoon. Keeping patients active during the day can also help solve the issue of day time sleep.

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  • Avoid Stimulants

Stimulants such as coffee and alcoholic drinks should be limited or avoided in the afternoon as the patient might find it difficult to sleep. It is also important to avoid watching TV on nights when they are unable to sleep.

  • Establish a Routine

Maintaining regular sleeping, eating, waking up and bathing times will help the patient get into a routine by setting their mental clock. By knowing that they should be engaging in certain activities at a certain time, patients are able to sleep better.

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  • Install Proper Lighting and Set a Soothing Environment

The patient’s room should be installed with proper lighting that will discourage the sleep-wake cycle. It also reduces agitation which can happen in dark surroundings. Frequent daylight exposure can also help address night and day reversal issues. Caregivers also need to set a soothing, peaceful and quiet mood in the patient’s environment to promote good sleep.

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