Whether you're an older adult in the early stages of dementia or a family member caring for a loved one with memory issues, you might be surprised to find that these cognitive conditions can have a serious impact on sleep. Find out more about dementia's potential impact on sleep below and what you might be able to do to combat some of the strain it can cause.
Increasing amounts of sleep can be a sign of progressing dementia. Sometimes as an individual progresses into further stages of dementia, he or she begins to sleep more during both the day and the night.
Typically, these changes are gradual, with the person slowly adding minutes and hours to their sleep. They might begin falling asleep during daytime activities, particularly when they aren't as engaged, such as when watching television.
You should always talk to the individual's care team about major changes, but in many cases, this type of gradual increase of sleep is normal for someone with dementia.
However, it's important to note that a sudden appearance of excessive sleep or other signs of illness may not be normal. If you have early onset dementia and find yourself unable to stay awake for very long or your loved one is suddenly sleeping constantly, it's a good idea to consult a physician about potential other causes of the fatigue.
Another potential sleep issue that individuals with dementia or their caregivers might experience is a confusion of normal sleeping schedules. Individuals at any stage of dementia might end up being awake for many hours during the night and sleeping for many of the daylight hours.
For seniors who are dealing with early stages of dementia, this can be frustrating. They might want to be awake and alert during the day to participate in activities or see family and friends, but they might find that hard to do if they're having trouble sleeping at night.
For caregivers, the issue can also be daunting. In some situations, especially in later stages of dementia, individuals might be unable to safely attend to themselves during long stretches of time. If an older adult is waking up when everyone else is sleeping, they might be at risk of injury, fall or even wandering out of the home and getting lost.
Some potential reasons for confused sleep cycles can include:
• Eating or drinking too many stimulating ingredients, especially later in the day. This can include caffeine, alcohol and sugar. Try to avoid offering this type of food to your loved one in the four or so hours before bedtime. That doesn't mean forgoing food at all; yogurt, hummus, crackers, peanut butter and bananas can all be foods that might help promote sleep.
• Drinking a lot of fluids later in the evening. This can cause someone to wake up with the urge to use the restroom, and that could make it difficult for someone to fall back asleep. Instead, encourage healthy fluid intake throughout the day so the person isn't super thirsty at night and drinking a great deal of water or tea before bed.
• Changes in circadian rhythms. These rhythms, which contribute heavily to the ability to fall asleep and enjoy quality sleep, are unique to each person. They can also change depending on what happens over the course of the day, week or even month. Work to find a rhythm that works and then keep it. That might mean making some choices within the family or house to ensure that your loved one can eat and sleep at roughly the same times each day.
• Overexcitement or getting too tired. You know how children don't always go to bed well when they are overly tired? Adults can have this problem too. If you've crammed too much excitement or stress into a day, you may find it more difficult to fall asleep no matter how tired you are. That's true of an older adult with dementia too, even if they don't realize everything that they went through during a day. Caregivers who can minimize stresses and spread activities out well may find that sleep is easier to come by at night for everyone.
Many seniors and their families struggle with these issues. But you don't have to deal with them alone. It can be challenging to take care of yourself if you're starting to experience major memory problems. And it can also be challenging for loved ones to care for an older relative with dementia, especially if that person is waking up and wandering at night.
At Autumn View Gardens in Ellisville, we offer a memory care level of service that allows your loved one to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle that's as independent as possible while also remaining safe.
Bethesda Foundaion is not associated with the Bethesda Health Group of St. Louis, MO.