Sleep issues are a well-documented side effect of most manifestations of dementia, but are specifically common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. This presents a problem for care providers, since, if a cherished one isn’t sleeping, neither are they. “Very frequently, the lack of sleep is what causes a caregiver to look at putting a cherished one in a center,” states Maureen Bradley, LPN, CDP, director of the Alzheimer’s care plans at several skilled nursing facilities. Many sleep-deprived care providers are plagued by the very same questions: How do I get my dad to sleep during the night? Why does grandma sleep daily? Why does my mother get so anxious during the night?
A group of Alzheimer’s experts weigh in on six common sleep questions:
- Are sleep problems caused by Alzheimer’s? Yes, Alzheimer’s may wreak havoc on an individual’s capacity to fall (and remain ) asleep. Suddenly adopting an irregular sleep schedule and sleeping more than normal are typical adverse effects of the disease, according to Emerson Wickwire, PhD, Sleep Medicine Program Director at Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Associates. “As Alzheimer’s advances, a person’s circadian rhythms have a tendency to become desynchronized. They may become predisposed towards dozing intermittently throughout the day, then experience difficulty sleeping through the evening time. ”
- Is my cherished one “sundowning? ” Sundowning pertains to the collection of behaviours exhibited by someone afflicted by sundowners syndrome, a dementia-related disorder that leads to anxiety and agitation to increase as night falls. Experts believe that anywhere between 25 and 66% of people with dementia experience this condition. In case your cherished one is sundowning, they may become restless, rate around, shadow you or ramble off. These behaviours typically start to occur sometime between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. and might continue during the nighttime, according to Bradley.
- Why do individuals with Alzheimer’s possess abnormal sleep cycles? The exact cause of sleep problems in people with Alzheimer’s therefore is now unknown, though lots of factors likely play a role. Wickwire states the disease affects the regions of the brain that regulate hormone secretion, appetite and cognitive functioning. Messing with any of these elements can result in restless nights. Bradley adds that other contributors to odd sleep cycles (e.g. lack of activity throughout the day and an inability to identify a familiar environment, like a bedroom) can also lead to issues.
- Is it okay to let someone with Alzheimer’s sleep daily? This can be a tricky question. People in the later phases of Alzheimer’s disease might spend a lot of the night lying awake in bed. These sleepless nights translate to drowsy daytimes. According to Bradley, boredom is another big contributor to daylight lethargy. “Caregivers are often afraid to upset that a cherished one, so they just let them sleep,” she states. But, this could spark a vicious cycle; letting a cherished one lie in bed for too long during the day makes them more predisposed towards waking up in the middle of the night. Bradley suggests trying to keep a person with Alzheimer’s engaged and active throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be anything specific: adult daycare activities, bodily exercise, special excursions, even easy errands can keep your elderly loved one engaged and active. If they do want rest, Wickwire recommends scheduling 20-30 minute day time naps--long enough to be sterile, but brief enough not to interfere with night time sleeping.
- What about sleeping pills? “I don’t enjoy sleeping pills,” says Bradley. “They put a person at risk for falls and lead them to feel hung over the following day. ” Really, research consistently suggests that, for elderly adults, the dangers associated with prescription sleep aids often outweigh the possible benefits.
- How do I help my cherished one sleep throughout the night? Expecting someone with Alzheimer’s to get a good night’s sleep could be a pipe dream, but doesn’t mean there aren’t approaches care providers can attempt. Additionally to maintaining a cherished one active and engaged throughout the day, sticking to a routine, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine may also decrease sleep problems in people with Alzheimer’s. Drawing the blinds to block out night time darkness, making sure a cherished one gets a sunlight exposure throughout the daytime and crafting a sleep-inducing bedroom environment (i.e. appropriate temperature, comfy bedding, etc.) are additional recommendations for getting a person with Alzheimer’s to sleep more soundly. In case your cherished one does wake up in the center of the night, don’t motivate them to try and return to sleep. Bradley states it’s better to get them started on a task, such as folding laundry or reading a book, as opposed to trying to get them to remain in bed.