Written By: Nancy Mitchell, RN
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 55 million people have dementia.1 Unfortunately, there are almost ten million new cases each year. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, comprising 60 to 70% of all cases.
Scientists have not yet fully understood Alzheimer's disease. However, this progressive disease generally affects the brain, particularly among older people. It starts with mild memory loss, which later impacts thought, memory, and language.2 This article serves as a great resource to share with your patients and their families if they are looking for alternatives other than medicine to help with irregular sleeping patterns.
- People with Alzheimer’s disease often have unpredictable sleeping patterns, which negatively impacts their quality of life.
- While doctors often prescribe medication to help patients with Alzheimer’s rest, there are non-medication treatment options.
- People with Alzheimer’s disease need as much support as they can receive from others.
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Alzheimer’s Disease and Sleeping Problems
Often, people with Alzheimer's disease have slumber problems.3 They sleep excessively during the day and suffer from insomnia at night. They have very unpredictable sleeping patterns, which negatively impact their quality of life.
So how do you help your loved ones with Alzheimer's disease? Sleep medications prescribed by doctors will work.4 Consider tricyclic antidepressants, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. However, it’s best to provide them with non-drug treatments.
This page shares eight non-medication tips for sleep problems for people with Alzheimer's. Keep reading to learn more.
Common Sleep Problems Due to Dementia
It’s common for older people to experience changes in slumber. However, sleep problems among those with dementia are more severe. It’s even worse for people with Alzheimer's disease.
Below are sleep disorders they might encounter:
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: People with Alzheimer's sleep more during the day. They don't just take a nap. It usually happens in the early stage of the disease.
- Nighttime Insomnia: People with Alzheimer's have trouble falling asleep at night. If they do sleep, they wake up from time to time.
- Sundowning: It’s a feeling of restlessness and agitation during sunset. For this reason, people with Alzheimer’s disease might stay awake and wander at night.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): OSA includes loud snoring, choking, and other respiratory symptoms. It’s due to collapsed airways when sleeping. About 50% of Alzheimer’s patients suffer from OSA.5
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): People with Alzheimer's constantly move their legs during sleep. They tend to do this to ease the unsettling, tingling sensations in their legs.
- Mental Health Disorders: A lot of Alzheimer's patients suffer from depression and anxiety.6 These mood disorders negatively impact their sleep. They either sleep less or a lot.
How to Treat Sleep Problems for People with Alzheimer’s Disease
At this point, we’ve identified sleep disorders associated with Alzheimer's disease. Doctors usually prescribe medicines to patients so that they can rest. However, non-medication treatments also help your loved one sleep better.
Here’s how to treat sleep problems for patients with Alzheimer's disease:
1. Regular Exercise
John Gardner, Co-Founder & CEO of Kickoff, believes that regular exercise fosters overall health.7 Specifically, it helps promote a night of restful and restorative sleep.
Gardner added, “But with or without dementia, your loved ones should work out regularly. Hire a fitness coach to help them exercise at home. Just ensure they won’t do this within four hours of bedtime.”
2. Daytime Physical Activities
Tory McBroom, Chief Editor at Yoga Answered, claims being physically active is key to a healthy lifestyle.8 That will also translate to a night of better sleep.
McBroom said, “Your loved ones don’t have to hit the gym or go to a fitness center. If actual exercise isn’t feasible, there’s an alternative solution. Encourage your seniors to walk, move, and pursue physical activities during the daytime.”
3. Daily Routines
Stephan Baldwin, Founder of Assisted Living, creates daily routines for his patients.9 He sets up a schedule for them to wake up, eat meals, and sleep.
Baldwin said, “Creating a schedule helps balance the lifestyle of people with dementia. Specifically, go to sleep and wake up at the same time. That will regulate your loved ones’ circadian rhythm."
4. Morning Sunlight Exposure
Did you know that light is the most effective regulator of the circadian rhythm?3 Expose your loved ones with dementia to morning sunlight!
Absorbing natural light helps orient your seniors’ internal clock. Others undergo light therapy by exposing themselves to specialized light daily. Studies show that it improves the sleep symptoms of Alzheimer’s patients.10
5. No Daytime Naps
Kevin Le Gall, founder and editor at Runner's Lab, promotes the health benefits of running.11 He suggested running late in the afternoon instead of taking daytime naps. Le Gall discovered that it’s a viable solution for promoting restful sleep.
The same thing applies to people with Alzheimer's disease. As much as possible, they should avoid sleeping during the day. That way, they can sleep better at night.
6. Stimulant Avoidance
People should monitor their food and beverage consumption if they struggle to sleep.3 However, Alzheimer's patients should be warier about what to eat and drink. They should avoid the following:
- Large meals
Caregivers should regulate the meals of those with dementia. Exclude those mentioned above for your loved ones.
7. Ideal Environment for Sleeping
Restful and restorative sleep requires an ideal environment for sleeping.3 Make sure you turn your loved one’s bedroom into a cozy place for slumber.
Consider the following factors:
- Proper Lighting: As mentioned above, light affects the body’s circadian rhythm. If your senior prefers a dark room for sleeping, make it as dim as possible.
- Ideal Temperature: Ensure your loved one’s bedroom has a normal temperature. It must not be too warm or too cold for sleeping.
8. Underlying Condition Treatment
Anthony Martin, founder and CEO of Choice Mutual, offers life insurance options.12 He believes you can ensure your loved ones’ quality of life by treating their underlying health conditions. These conditions could be affecting their sleep. Aside from dementia, they probably have OSA, RLA, or mental health disorders. By getting to the bottom of the problems and treating them will translate into significant sleep improvements.
Additional Items to Help Patients with Alzheimer’s
Many products can help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s have a better quality of life. Daily living aids can help with routine and quality of life. Below are some of the many items Performance Health offers to help caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients.
Maddak Redware Tableware
Having a high contrast in your dishware compared to your table can help increase food and liquid intake.
Carex Day-Light Classic Plus
A therapeutic light lamp can help with light exposure when the season doesn’t offer it as much.
Having a designated pill organizer can help the patient or their caregiver keep on schedule as to if they have taken their required medication.
Dycem Nonslip Activity Pads
Ideal for one-handed activities, the small pad can be carried when out and about or at home to help hold objects in place.
Sammons Preston Comfy Grip Utensils
These dishwasher safe utensils come with a thicker handle to help users with a weak grip or limited hand function.
The Bottom Line
People with dementia should receive proper medical care. Consult a health professional for your loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. Hire a caregiver to help them manage behavioral symptoms and delay the disease’s symptoms.
But as far as treating sleep problems, consider the non-medication tips recommended above. However, talk to a doctor to prescribe proper medicines and recommend non-drug treatments.
Ultimately, provide your loved ones with the utmost support. Doing so will help your entire family rise above the situation!
- Dementia. (2022, September 20). http://bit.ly/3it3Eod
- What is Alzheimer’s Disease? | CDC. (n.d.). http://bit.ly/3XNRwxW
- Treatments for Sleep Changes. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. http://bit.ly/3VzBi9K
- Alzheimer’s and Sleep Problems: What to Expect and How to Help Your Loved One. (2015, June 29). WebMD. http://bit.ly/3FgKACz
- Emamian, F., Khazaie, H., Tahmasian, M., Leschziner, G. D., Morrell, M. J., Hsiung, G. Y. R., Rosenzweig, I., & Sepehry, A. A. (2016). The Association Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Meta-Analysis Perspective. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 8. http://bit.ly/3XNS6f6
- Molano, J., & Vaughn, B. V. (2014). Approach to insomnia in patients with dementia. Neurology: Clinical Practice, 4(1), 7–15. http://bit.ly/3GZvGBY
- Online Personal Training & Nutrition Coaching | Kickoff. (n.d.). http://bit.ly/3EPeSL2
- McBroom, T. (2022, October 2). Yoga Answered – The Complete Guide To Yoga For All Levels. Yoga Answered. http://bit.ly/3VJyN57
- Assisted Living Center. (2022, October 7). Find The Right Senior Living. http://bit.ly/3XLFlSn
- Hanford, N., & Figueiro, M. (2013). Light Therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia: Past, Present, and Future. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 33(4), 913–922. http://bit.ly/3Ff0ME2
- Runner’s Lab. (2022, August 12). Runner’s Lab: Find the Perfect Running Shoes for You. http://bit.ly/3FgOzi8
- Choice Mutual - Compare & Buy Final Expense Insurance. (2022, November 8). Choice Mutual. http://bit.ly/3ubpfnp
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided on this site, including text, graphics, images, and other material are for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
About the Author: Nancy Mitchell, RN
Nancy Mitchell is a registered nurse and contributing writer for AssistedLivingCenter.com. She has over 37 years of experience in geriatric nursing care.