How to Improve Sleep in Dementia

Uncategorized May 11, 2020

Welcome back Careblazer.

Today I want to talk about dementia and sleep. Dementia often times negatively impacts sleep, which makes your life as the Careblazer extremely difficult. Especially when your LOWD won’t go to sleep at night, wakes up in the middle of the night, wanders around, makes noise, and essentially makes it difficult for you to get decent sleep. 

I want to go over some general strategies to implement with your LOWD. Whether they are having a ton of sleep problems already or they haven’t shown any sleep problems, yet, implementing these general strategies can help improve their sleep or make it less likely that they will develop some of the sleep issues that many people with dementia develop. I hope you find it helpful. 

I want to be sure I emphasize how important it is to be patient as you start to implement some of these routines. When sleep is minimal, no one is at their best and it’s easy to get easily frustrated and give up. But if you give up, nothing is likely to change. Your mind is likely going to want to take a look at these 10 tips and say, that won’t work for my LO, or I already tried that, or nothing will work. Don’t believe that. Choose one of these tips, implement it. Get it into a routine where it feels natural and then add another tip. Bit by bit, week by week, positive change in sleep can start to occur. Don’t give up, Careblazer. Give this a good honest effort. I know it can make a difference. 

Okay, let’s get started. Here are some general sleep tips to implement to help your loved one with dementia (and you!) get some decent sleep. 

#1. Stick to a Routine. A few weeks ago I did a video on all the specific reasons a daily dementia routine is helpful, and one of those reasons is to help regulate sleep. You want to try to keep your loved one as much of a routine as possible when it comes to meal times, bed time, and wake time. 

#2. Schedule activity. To increase the chances your LOWD will sleep at night, it’s important that they have some activity during the day. You want to incorporate some physical activity such as walking, going outside, stretching, or whatever is within their ability level. You also want to consider some mental activities such as sorting photos, doing puzzles, playing a game, etc. You don’t want them to over do things and become overly exhausted because this tends to lead to agitation, but when your LOWD has very little activity during the day, they aren’t tired enough to go to sleep at night. You are looking for a balance. 

#3. Minimize naps. Many people with dementia...and without nap during the day. Without monitoring the naps and limiting how much they are napping, it will start to interfere with their ability to sleep at night. Many caregivers enjoy when their LOWD is napping because that’s extra time to themselves. But the trade off many times, is less sleep for you at night. You want to try to make sure your LOWD isn’t napping any more than 2 hours/time at the max. If you loved one seems to be napping longer than that, you want to find a gentle way to wake them up and have some type of pleasant snack or activity ready for them. Also, keeping naps to before noon is best. The later the naps, the more likely it will interfere with sleep. 

#4. If possible, try to expose your LOWD to sunlight during the day, especially earlier on in the day, weather it’s opening up the curtains and letting sunlight come through the windows and sitting on the porch. Sunlight during the day is helpful to help regulate a good sleep/wake cycle. 

#5. Avoid bright lights, screen lights from tablets, phones, computers about 2 hours before bed. Those types of lights wake up the brain and will make it difficult for them to go to sleep. Keep those activities for earlier in the day. 

#6. Avoid stimulants: Things like nicotine, caffeine &  alcohol. If your LOWD uses nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol, just make sure it’s earlier in the day and try to stop it several hours before you want them to go to bed. 

#7.  Avoid over the counter PM medications. I know the idea of giving your LOWD something over the counter to sleep sounds amazing, but the thing is that these medications and syrups usually have something in them called diphenhydramine and often times cause more confusion, falls, and agitation than actual help. If you’re thinking about giving something to your loved one to help them sleep, be sure to talk to your LO’s medical provider because many of the things that might help us can be harmful for our LOWD. 

#8. Develop an evening routine. I know I talked about a routine for sleep, wake, and meal times. But consider a getting ready for bed routine. You can have comforting, relaxing music, comfy pajamas, maybe a warm glass of milk.  Think about the 30 minutes to 1 hour before the bed time as a time to engage in a relaxing wind down routine. By doing this routine, the brain will start to be trained that those activities mean bed time is coming and the brain will start to settle down. 

#9 Make the room sleep friendly: To minimize how much anxiety and fear your LOWD might have if they wake up in the middle of the night, have night lights in the room and surround their room with familiar objects of things that bring them positive memories such as old family photos. 

I hope this has helped. If you want to watch my video on sundowning, it’s linked here.

Challenge yourself to choose one of the above tips and incorporate it into your routine. 

As always, I’ll be back next week with another post. In the meantime, keep up the great work. Bye.


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