Sleeping and Alzheimer's disease 
Elderly man holding stair fence with closed eyes
Elderly man holding stair fence with closed eyes

Many people with Alzheimer’s experience changes in their sleep patterns, it isn’t completely understood why this happens but as with changes in memory and behaviour, sleep changes  result from the impact of Alzheimer’s and other dementias on the brain.

Dementia can affect people's body clocks so that they may get up in the night, get dressed or even go outside. This can be very worrying - and exhausting - for families.

Sleep changes in Alzheimer’s may include:

Difficulty sleeping: Many people with Alzheimer’s tend to wake up more often and remain awake longer during the night. People who cannot sleep may wander, be unable to lie still, or call out, disrupting the sleep of others in the house.

Daytime naps and other shifts in the sleep-wake cycle: Individuals may feel very drowsy after a poor night’s sleep and then be unable to sleep at night. They may become restless or agitated in the late afternoon or early evening, this is often referred to as ‘sun downing’

Sundowning: Many people with dementia, especially in the middle stages, experience periods of increased confusion at dusk, with their disorientation continuing throughout the night.

Sundowning may be caused by:

  • Mental and physical tiredness at the end of the day
  • Reduced light and an increase of shadows
  • Less need for sleep, common among older adults
  • A muddled ‘body clock’ with the mixing up of day and night

Coping strategies for sleep changes: To create an inviting sleeping environment and promote rest for a person with Alzheimer’s

  • Establish a regular routine for meals and for going to bed and getting up
  • Encourage regular daily exercise, try a gentle walk before bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine and heavy suppers
  • Encourage the person to use the bathroom before bed
  • Make sure the bedroom temperature is comfortable and consider dark curtains or a black out blind
  • Provide nightlights and security objects and a clock that shows am/pm near the bed
  • Discourage watching television during periods of wakefulness
  • Consider only using the bed to sleep, don’t eat, drink or read in bed
  • If the person wakes up, gently remind them it is night time
  • Discourage long day time naps and going to bed in the day
  • Think about a relaxed evening routine, a warm bath, hand massage, listening to music instead of watching the television and avoiding stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles or jigsaws
  • A warm milky drink and soothing company before they fall asleep can help some people
  • There is also a variety of Telecare equipment than can assist a person to remain safe during the night and give peace of mind to families

Home Instead Senior Care Durham offers a bespoke service tailored to the needs of individual clients and ranges from companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, post-discharge care, medication reminders, shopping, errands and personal care.  We are now able to offer specialist Alzheimer’s and other dementia care.

The Home Instead Senior Care service allows people to remain at home and lead an independent life and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you would like more information about our home care services please call the office on 0191 374 4041

A group of Home Instead CAREGivers talking
Family welcoming a Home Instead care manager into their home