While daily life for someone with dementia has its challenges, the nights are often especially hard. Restlessness, sleepwalking and other disruptive night time behaviours can make sleeping difficult for sufferers and carers alike, with many people struggling to get a good night’s rest.

Sleep deprivation not only makes life a lot more difficult for carers, it can also aggravate the symptoms of dementia. Finding ways of coping with these sleep behaviours is therefore essential if you want to make your nights easier and your days more enjoyable.


This disruptive sleep behaviour is known as sundowning. Affecting people who suffer from both Alzheimer’s and dementia, sundowning generally begins at dusk and continues into the night. Although scientists don’t completely understand what causes sundowning, studies have indicated that up to 20% of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia experience the phenomenon.

This disruption to the body’s sleep/wake cycle can have serious repercussions. Often, people with dementia who experience sundowning show increased behavioural problems during the day.

What causes disruptive sleep patterns?

There are many factors that might cause sundowning and other disruptive sleep behaviours. One of the major causes is end of day exhaustion. If a person with dementia becomes physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the day, it can be harder for them to control their behaviour and more difficult for them to switch off and fall asleep.

If you’re a carer, you can try to combat this by introducing daytime naps or by encouraging your loved one to go to sleep before they become exhausted. Try to watch out for signs your loved one is becoming overtired in the run up to bed time. These might include increased irritability, difficulty managing simple tasks and confusion. If you spot these signs, try to get your loved one to take a nap or, at the very least, rest for a little while in a calm, relaxing place.

Another thing that can impact on disruptive night time behaviour is darkness. Low lighting, long shadows and a darker environment can make it more difficult for people with dementia to interpret the world around them. This can then cause them to become confused and afraid. Turning more lights on in your home could be a simple way of chasing the shadows away.

The inability to differentiate between dreams and reality is another common cause of disrupted sleep. When a person with dementia has a bad dream, or wakes suddenly while dreaming, they can easily become confused and disorientated. Dealing with this type of behaviour is difficult. The only thing carers can do is create a safe sleeping environment and try to ensure their loved one is calmed down as quickly as possible when they wake up.

Learn more about coping with dementia, and about the help and support that’s available in your area, by exploring our site today.