One of the most frequent problems that people with dementia can face is the inability to have a good nights sleep. It is common for people with dementia to be restless during the night and feel lethargic during the day, this situation is not ideal. Given the importance of sleep, it’s essential to do everything necessary to prioritise the establishment of a good sleeping pattern

Here are some ideas that can help someone with dementia achieve a healthy sleeping schedule:

Identify possible causes of sleeplessness

This is easier said than done but it’s crucial to investigate any likely physical causes of sleeplessness. Talk to the GP about having an assessment of the overall 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  can cause a person to wake up frequently and therefore interrupt their REM cycle.

Make sleeping a routine

Routines are important, especially for someone with dementia. It is crucial to associate particular activities with a certain 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 need to have some sleep during the day. Whilst it is important to rest during the daytime, 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, do not be tempted to let them oversleep.

Physical activity

Regular physical exertion is hugely  beneficial for people with dementia, it’s important to be as active as possible, at 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 to sleep 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 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 have food with caffeine in it, make sure it’s consumed 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 room, 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 the risk of falling by limiting access to stairs, perhaps a stairgate might be appropriate?
  • Consider having a baby monitor that would alert a caregiver to the fact that someone has woken up.
  • Don’t lock someone with dementia in their bedroom, if they wake up 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 display what time of the day or night it is and can help a  person with dementia orient themselves in the middle of the night.