Sleep disorders are a common problem in Alzheimer’s disease. Because sleep is such an important aspect of overall good health, it’s important to find ways of improving sleep in Alzheimer’s patients in order to reduce the risk of other health complications.
You may be wondering, why Alzheimer’s disease and sleep disorders coexist. It mainly has to do with Alzheimer’s disrupting a patient’s sleep-wake cycle. At night, patients are often restless, and during the day they are fatigued and lethargic. The sleeping troubles get worse as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Over time, daytime naps begin to take the place of the overnight restorative sleep.
Sleep troubles can worsen if the patient has another underlying sleep problem such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or depression.
In Alzheimer’s disease, caregivers may notice that the patient sleeps more during the day, has difficulty falling asleep at night, or wakes up frequently throughout the night, prefers to sleep during the day rather than at night, or becomes agitated or restless as the sun goes down – this is known as sundowning.
Some researchers speculate that Alzheimer’s disease damages the brain and causes changes in the way it controls when to sleep and when to be awake.
How to get Alzheimer’s patients to sleep at night
There are both medical and non-medical methods to promote sleep in Alzheimer’s disease patients. Doctors may prescribe sleep aids to promote sleep, but lifestyle changes can also work to promote sleep among patients.
Here are some other tips to help Alzheimer’s disease patients get a better sleep at night:
- Maintain a regular schedule for the patient, this includes scheduling meals and bedtime.
- Ensure lighting is adequate for morning and night. In the morning, move patients to lighting right away, and ensure the room is dark at night to promote sleep.
- Ensure the patient isn’t exercising too close to bedtime.
- Ensure the bedroom promotes sleep – the temperature is well set, the room is dark, and the bed is comfortable.
- Ensure the patient is being treated for other underlying sleep problems such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
- Check with the patient’s doctor that the medications they are taking do not cause a side effect of disrupted sleep
- Keep daytime napping to a minimum.
- Limit intake of stimulants like caffeine, sugar, of nicotine prior to bed.
By following these tips and working with the patient’s doctor, caregivers can have the patient sleep better and longer throughout the night rather than tossing and turning.