How can dementia affect sleep?

November 22, 2021 Dementia Care

How can dementia affect sleep?

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that affects parts of the brain concerned with memory and thinking skills. Sleep problems are also common in individuals with dementia and tends to get worse as their condition progresses in severity. Here we describe the common sleep problems related to dementia and what you can do to help.

Common Sleep Problems

Insomnia – Insomnia is a common problem for people living with dementia. It can result in the person not getting enough good-quality sleep. The person may be struggling with pain or discomfort, have other health conditions that make sleep more difficult such as heart or breathing problems. They also may be feeling anxious, stressed or depressed and could be taking medications where insomnia is listed as a side effect.

Excessive daytime sleepiness – A person living with dementia may spend a lot of their time sleeping- during the day and night. As the disease progresses, the damage to a person’s brain becomes extensive and they gradually become weaker over time. The condition is common in people with more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) – Restless legs syndrome is a condition where the person has an overwhelming urge to move the legs, especially at night. The condition is common in people with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) or Parkinson’s disease dementia.

REM sleep behaviour disorder –  REM sleep behaviour disorder causes the person to physically act out their dreams, which can be violent. This is also common in individuals with Lewy body dementia.

How you can help someone living with dementia who is experiencing sleeping problems?

Sleep Foundation recommends a collection of practices and environmental considerations that promote good sleep quality.

Maintain a regular schedule – This includes setting predictable wake and sleep times, creating a bedtime routine that involves quiet, soothing activities before bed and avoiding television and electronic devices before bed.

Engage in physical exercise – Sleep Foundation recommends exercising early in the day which can lead to better sleep at night and reduce napping as well as support overall health.

Schedule social activity – A research study found that people living with dementia who participated in one to two hours of social activity per day showed improved night-time sleep.

Limit naps – It may help to discourage napping or limit the practice to one nap lasting less than 30 minutes. Napping multiple times during the day can decrease sleepiness at night.

Avoid stimulants – Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine as this can interfere with sleep.

To read more information about how you can support a person living with dementia who is experiencing sleeping problems, click here.