One of the most frequent problems that people with dementia can face is the inability to have an uninterrupted nights sleep. This may be compounded through this period of isolation as one day turns into another where routines have been disrupted. It is common for people with dementia to be restless during the night and feel lethargic during the day. Given the importance of sleep, it’s essential to prioritise the establishment of a good sleeping pattern
Here are some ideas that can help someone with dementia achieve a healthy sleeping schedule.
Determine possible reasons causing sleeplessness This is easier said than done but it’s essential to investigate any probable causes of sleeplessness. Talk to the GP about having an assessment of the overall physical condition of the person with dementia. There are many physical conditions that can have an impact on sleep, for example sleep apnea a common complaint that causes the person to wake up frequently and therefore interrupting their REM cycle.
Make sleeping a routine Routines are important, especially for someone with dementia. It is crucial to associate certain activities with a time of day. From a warm pre bedtime drink, to brushing teeth, running a bath with aromatherapy oils that encourage sleep and putting on pyjamas, anything that can be done regularly in order to signal that it’s time for bed is extremely helpful.
Limit day time naps People with dementia often crave sleep during the daytime and whilst it is important to rest during the day, there needs to be a balance between meeting the need to sleep during the day and not jeopardising the chances of a full nights sleep. Because sleeping on a bed produces deeper sleep than for example when napping on a couch, perhaps daytime naps could occur in places other than bed. A quiet comfortable place can be created for daytime rest and part of that routine should be a clear idea of when one should wake up.
Physical activity Regular physical exertion is hugely beneficial for people with dementia, it’s important to be as active as possible and least twice daily. Try and schedule any activity for the early part of the day, and decrease the number of activities as it gets closer to bed time. Too much activity in the latter part of the day can leave someone overstimulated and too energised to have a good night’s sleep.
Organise medication time Anyone with dementia has a very difficult time falling back asleep if they are woken up for any reason. Caregivers and GPs should coordinate with each other in order to design a schedule that promotes sleep. Try and schedule all medication well before bedtime also check the potential side effects of any medication because there are some that will have a stimulating effect, making it hard to sleep if it’s taken at night.
Think about diet. Caffeine is a strong stimulant that can disrupt anyone’s sleep. Most people associate caffeine with coffee, but there is caffeine in a multitude of foods and drinks eg.cereals, ice cream, chocolate, tea and soft drinks may all contain caffeine. Read food labels thoroughly and if you are going to be food with caffeine in it consumed, do it in the early part of the day.
Create a relaxing environment A person with dementia needs uninterrupted sleep. Think about the potential for any noise and distraction. Bedrooms should be located in the quietest part of the house and there should be no radio or television in the bedroom. There should be minimal or even better no light coming into the bedroom, blackout curtains or blinds can easily solve this problem. Is the temperature right? Nothing wakes you up more than if you re too hot or too cold.
Even if you follow all of the above tips. there is still a chance that a dementia sufferer will wake at night – it’s important to remember that waking is an extremely common occurrence affecting around 40 per cent of those with dementia. In the event that someone does wake in the night there are some useful things you can do. Minimise any fall risks by limiting access to stairs, perhaps a stairgate might be approriate, consider having a baby monitor that would alert a caregiver to the fact that someone has awoken. Don’t lock someone with dementia into their bedroom, if they wakeup completely disoriented they could become extremely distressed by a locked door. A really worthwhile product to consider purchasing is a day clock, this will clearly tell you what time of the day or night it is and can help a person with dementia orient themselves in the middle of the night.