Helping Those with Dementia (and Caregivers) Sleep Soundly

August 22, 2017

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hands of an older woman folded in her bed

If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, chances are you know the value of a good night’s sleep. Sleep plays a crucial role in our physical, mental, and emotional health, and quality sleep plays a huge role in quality care. Unfortunately, poor sleeping patterns are common amongst those with dementia, as well as family caregivers. Changes triggered by old age and dementia can make sleeping more difficult for those with memory disorders, while the stress and burdens of care can make a full night’s sleep rare for family caregivers.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to sleeping issues — especially when dementia is involved, — small changes can make a big impact on the quality of sleep enjoyed by those with dementia and their care providers. If you’re finding quality sleep is a problem for your loved one or yourself, here are some of the adjustments you might want to consider making:

Improving Sleep for Those with Dementia

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can throw up a number of roadblocks to quality sleep. Dementia can be disruptive to a person’s circadian rhythms, the natural cycle that the body uses to understand when it should be asleep and when it should be awake. Many people with dementia also suffer from Sundowner’s Syndrome, meaning they become more agitated and anxious in the evening. Additionally, seniors with dementia are also likely to suffer from poor sleep quality, which is common in old age.

As a caregiver, you can take steps to regulate your loved one’s sleeping schedule, reduce Sundowner’s-related agitation, and improve you loved one’s overall quality of sleep. These steps include:

  • Encourage a regular sleeping routine, including going to sleep at the same time each evening and waking up at the same time every morning. This will ensure minimal disruption to your loved one’s circadian rhythms.
  • Have your loved one spend time outdoors during the day or in an area with lots of indirect natural light. Sunlight is one of the best ways to regulate circadian rhythms, sending signals to the brain about when is best to be awake and when to go to sleep.
  • Take your loved one for walks during the day and find other ways to encourage light physical activity. Physical activity tires people out and lets the body know that it needs sleep in order to recharge.
  • Have your loved one avoid screens and other forms of stimulation before going to bed. Screens can disrupt circadian rhythms, while exciting TV shows or activities can induce Sundowner’s related agitation and anxiety.
  • Ensure that your loved one has a dark and quiet space for sleeping at night. Try to avoid any possible noises or disruptions that could wake your loved one, such as activity from other family members who are up late at night. Also try to avoid strange shapes or harsh shadows that could distress your loved one if they wake up at night.

Getting Enough Sleep as a Caregiver

People with dementia aren’t the only ones whose sleep is impacted by a memory disorder. As a family caregiver, you will typically wake up before your loved one and go to bed at a later time, meaning you often get less sleep than your parent or grandparent. It can also be tempting to stay up late and try to accomplish the things you couldn’t do during the day while providing care. In other cases, you might find yourself so stressed each night that you struggle to close your eyes.

By not getting enough sleep, you can easily put yourself at risk for caregiver burnout. It should come as no surprise that lack of sleep is one of the biggest signs of caregiver stress. And when you suffer from burnout, you put yourself and your loved one in an unwinnable position.

The good news is you can use the same steps — following a routine, getting sunlight and exercise, avoiding screens, and creating a comfortable sleeping space — to help yourself develop healthy sleep patterns. You might also want to take steps like practicing meditation (to reduce stress) and reducing your caffeine intake.

If you find that your sleeping problems are because you’re over-stretching yourself, you might consider professional dementia care. A few hours of professional dementia care for your loved one each week can give you the time you need to tend to other areas of your life. This means you’ll have a chance to accomplish other work, see friends, spend time with family, or take time for yourself. Even four to six hours of care once a week can be enough to make falling asleep easier at night.

If you think dementia care services may be right for your loved one, contact your local Visiting Angels office today to learn more about services available in your area.

Written by Larry Meigs
Visiting Angels is America’s choice in home care. Since 1998, Visiting Angels locations across the country have been helping elderly and disabled individuals by providing care and support in the comfort of home. In addition to senior home care and adult care, Visiting Angels provides dementia care and Alzheimer’s care for individuals suffering from memory disorders. There are now more than five hundred Visiting Angels locations nationwide.

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