Sleeping problems in dementia are quite common, and without proper sleep symptoms related to dementia can worsen greatly. Some patients sleep during the day and are wide awake at night as a result. Others may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Some patients may wander throughout the night or get confused, which can lead to greater behavioral changes making patient care difficult.
Unfortunately, these changes in sleep patterns aren’t fully understood by researchers. Some speculate that sleep changes could be stemming from brain changes that occur in dementia. Sleep problems may worsen as dementia worsens, too.
Causes of sleeping problems in dementia
There are numerous underlying causes that can contribute to sleep changes in dementia. These causes include:
- Brain changes that occur in dementia
- Other illnesses the patient may have, including angina, congestive heart failure, or diabetes
- Pain which could be a result of arthritis
- Urinary tract infections or the frequent need to urinate, especially at night
- Restless leg syndrome or leg cramps
- Side effect of medications
- Sleep apnea or snoring
- A need for less sleep as a result of aging
- Poor sleeping environment (hot temperature in the room, for example)
- Poor lighting
- Changes in environment
- Bedtime that is too early
- Sleeping during the day
- Excessive tiredness causing tension
- Too much caffeine or alcohol
- Disturbing dreams
Treatment for sleep changes and disturbances in dementia patients
Treatment for sleep disturbances in dementia patients depends on their cause. Although sleeping aids can be given to improve sleep, treating the underlying condition can achieve better results.
For example, caregivers can improve the sleeping environment for the patient, ensuring proper temperature and lighting to promote sleep. Patients should also be treated for other medical conditions that may be interfering with their sleep.
It is also important to keep patients on a regular schedule with minimal changes (those can promote sleep problems, too). For example, keep a consistent bedtime, ensure the patients do not sleep throughout the day by keeping them busy, and ensure they are sleeping in the same room night after night.
As a caregiver, you can work with the patient’s doctor in order to develop a treatment plan that best suits the patient in order to promote sleep.