Trouble with sleeping is one of the more challenging aspects of many types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, both for your diagnosed loved one and for you as their caregiver. If they’re not sleeping well, neither are you.

Not only can lack of sleep worsen the mood and behavior of someone with dementia, but it can take a toll on those around them as well. Your loved one may wake up frequently, wander or yell out in the middle of the night — and these restless nights can lead them to nap even more during the day, contributing to the cycle.

What can you do to help them (and you) get a more restful night’s sleep?

1 – Increase natural light exposure

Daylight helps regulate our biological clock, or circadian rhythm, so exposure to sunlight can help your loved one feel more awake during the day and prepared for bed at night. Keep blinds open and lights on throughout the day, and let them enjoy time outside as much as possible.

2 – Limit caffeine

Stimulants like caffeine don’t do our bodies any favors when it comes to relaxing and falling asleep. Reduce or eliminate coffee and tea consumption, especially in the afternoon, and stick to water and juices.

3 – Encourage light exercise

Regular daytime activity can help people with dementia sleep better at night. According to the Cleveland Clinic, water exercise is a great option since it is easier on joints and requires less balance. Some light exercise ideas include:

      • Walking
      • Swimming
      • Water aerobics
      • Gardening
      • Tai Chi
      • Yoga

To encourage winding down in the evening, your loved one should not exercise later than four hours before bedtime.

4 – Get on a schedule

Loved ones with Alzheimer’s may not be able to learn new behaviors, but they can recognize routines, according to Serenades by Sonata, a purpose-built memory care community in Florida.

As much as possible, try to maintain a regular wake time and bedtime, and keep a consistent meal schedule. Routines can also reinforce memories and behaviors, so stick to routines they had before the dementia.

Remember: While a schedule may be helpful, it’s not a guarantee. Something may work today, but it may not work tomorrow, so it’s important to be realistic and not set yourself up for disappointment.

That said, increased napping is a natural part of aging. While you may struggle to keep your loved one awake all day so that they’ll sleep better at night, they may eventually not understand why you want them to do that.

As their dementia progresses, they may fall asleep anytime and anywhere — and allowing them to get some sleep when they can is better than forcing them to stay awake for the sake of a schedule.

5 – Create a bedroom environment that promotes sleep

Whether it’s meal time or bedtime, people with dementia benefit from a relaxing environment free of distractions.

Take a look around their bedroom and ask:

      • Is the room a comfortable temperature?
      • Is it dark enough at night? Are blackout curtains needed?
      • Are there distracting noises such as a squeaky fan, clunky air conditioner or loud clock?

Your loved one may benefit from a soothing object like a weighted blanket, particular pillow or soft toy to cuddle. Diffusing essential oils such as lavender may also create a sleep-inducing environment.

When it’s time to wind down for bed, avoid stressful, exciting and/or frustrating activities such as watching TV, working puzzles or even reading.

While these bedtime strategies may not work all the time or for everyone, they are worth considering.

6 – Supplements and medication

Low doses of a melatonin supplement can help promote sleep and better regulate your loved one’s sleep cycle. Melatonin is generally safe to take daily, but always check with a doctor before introducing a supplement.

Depending on the progression of the Alzheimer’s and severity of the sleep disturbances, medication may be a helpful solution. Don’t be afraid of this option. Medication may not always work, but consider consulting a geriatrician to see if it’s a right fit.

7 – Self-care: The care you forget to give

Perhaps the most important aspect of being an effective caregiver is remembering to care for yourself. As Alzheimer’s progresses, many caregivers begin to experience more health-related issues of their own due to lack of sleep and neglecting self-care.

It’s critical to have a support system, especially in the early stages of your loved one’s dementia. It’s hard to predict what behavior changes are ahead — some people with advanced Alzheimer’s can be awake for up to 72 hours before crashing and sleeping for days. You can’t manage that alone.

Plus, your loved one may not react well to a “stranger” visiting as their dementia progresses. Even if it’s a family member or old friend, they may not recognize them, which could trigger agitation or confusion. That’s all the more reason to establish a support system and introduce helpers earlier in the process.

National Sleep Awareness Week

National Sleep Awareness Week is March 3 – 10. This year, consider a professional care partner who can provide you with a break so that you can better care for yourself and your loved one. Finding an excellent memory care community in Florida is easy, and there’s no shame in seeking specialized help for your parent, partner or family member.

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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