Sleep and dementia – tips for a better night’s sleep

Often people living with dementia find it difficult it get a good night’s sleep. This can be very difficult for both the person living with dementia and also their carer. We all know how important sleep is for our mental and physical well-being and we all appreciate how detrimental continuous poor sleep can be. But is there anything we can do to help people living with dementia sleep better?

In short, the answer is yes. There are things we can do to make things better and some or all of the following ideas may help your loved one. But, do make sure you do speak to a health care professional if the problem does not go away because there may be something they need to help with.

The type of sleep issues people living with dementia can experience include getting to sleep and/or waking up during the night.

Daytime

Being busy and keeping your mind and body active during the day can help immensely with getting to sleep at night. Activity, exercise and stimulation throughout the day will pay dividends come bedtime.

  1. Get some fresh air and sunlight morning and afternoon. One of the reasons that people struggle to sleep when living with dementia is the disruption to the body clock. It often causes people living with dementia to get day and night mixed up. Being outside, in the ‘real world’, enjoying outdoor light in the morning and early evening can really help to get the body clock back in sync.
  2. Enjoy some light exercise. Make sure when you are out and about you enjoy some light exercise, what you do will depend on your mobility, but do what you can. A walk in the park, some ‘armchair exercise’ sat on the garden chair or some stretching in the garden. There is lots of advice online but speak to your doctor before starting anything new.
  3. Naps are OK, but have them early. It may not be a bad thing to have a quick nap, but the later in the day you have it the more likely it will impact on sleeping at night. The golden rule is always nap before lunch!
  4. Don’t drink too much caffeine. Just like everybody else, too much caffeine in the afternoon can interrupt sleep patterns. Make sure you don’t drink caffeinated drinks after 2pm, or completely switch to a caffeine free alternative.
  5. Drink plenty of fluids. Again, like everyone else, it is vital that people living with dementia drink plenty of fluids throughout the day (dehydration can cause more confusion and illnesses such as urinary tract infections).
  6. Plan fluid intake earlier in the day. Try and drink most of your drinks in the day and early evening and have as little as possible in the last few hours before bed. This will reduce the number of trips to the bathroom overnight. Obviously, if a milky drink at bedtime is part of your routine you should continue with this.

Evening

A great night’s sleep often relies on the preparation just before bedtime, so make the most of this time. Just like everybody else, stress and worry keeps people living with dementia awake at night. The calmer and more relaxed a person living with dementia is in the hours before going to bed the better chance they have of sleeping well.

  1. Watch a favourite TV show or listen to relaxing music. Make sure it is positive, happy and feel good rather than cutting edge drama that may upset or disturb you. The news can be a bit worrying with all of the negative stories, so consider a favourite light-hearted comedy as an alternative.
  2. Don’t talk about anything contentious. Just before bed is the wrong time to talk about money, family worries or anything else that may play on the mind. Instead focus on chatting about positive memories, a much-loved family member or something else that will bring a smile.
  3. Enjoy a soak in the tub. Just before bed is the perfect time to have a relaxing soak in the bath. A favourite relaxing bath oil or aromatherapy essential oil may aid sleep (lavender and chamomile are very considered highly relaxing by many people).
  4. A gentle massage may help unwind. Sometimes a quick shoulder, hand or foot massage may help as part of a pre-bed routine. Never forget how comforting human touch can be, it can be extremely relaxing and soothing.

Bedtime

A good bedtime routine can make a massive difference to getting to sleep quickly and then staying asleep throughout the night.

  1. Remember your old bedtime routine. Often when people receive a diagnosis of dementia they stop doing what made them happy or what worked for them in the past. If there was something you have done previously that helped you get off to sleep, consider reintroducing. Reading a book, listening to a radio play or drinking a cup of Horlicks? If it worked before, why not try it again.
  2. Get the simple things right. Is it dark enough? Is it the right temperature? Is it quiet enough? Have you removed all distractions? If the answer to any of these questions is no then rectify it straight away.

During the night

If you follow all of the previous tips, hopefully you will be in the best possible position to have a great night’s sleep.

  1. Try and get to the bottom of the sleep issues. Is there something specific that is causing the sleep disruption, if so try and find a way around the problem.
  2. Make awake time as positive as possible. If following everything you have done you still have periods of being awake try and make it positive time. Read a book, listen to some music or something similar that will help you relax. Ultimately, this will help you get out of the wakefulness cycle, relax properly and drop off again.
  3. Stay safe at night. Lying awake at night can be frustrating and can sometimes increase the risk of injury with people living with dementia. Some things that can help include a monitor, a call bell, a pressure pad or simply a stairgate.

Speak to your Doctor

If none of the above work and you are still struggling then go and see your GP and see if they can help.

If there is a particular topic that you would like to read about, please send your suggestion to care@greensleeves.org.uk 

Visit Greensleeves Care homes page to find a care home providing dementia care near you.