7 Ways to Help Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia Sleep Better

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Sleeping problems are common in people with Alzheimer’s disease (as well as other forms of dementia). Since those with Alzheimer’s and dementia sometimes lose awareness of the time of day, getting them to bed at night can become an exhausting roadblock for them and their caregivers. Other factors such as sundown syndrome and the side effects of medication can make nighttime an enormous challenge for caregivers. Try these tips to get someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia to sleep better:

1. Establish a routine

Creating a regular daily schedule for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia can help them fall asleep, and stay asleep. The ideal routine includes waking up and going to bed at the same time each day, and multiple random naps during the day should be avoided.

2. Exercise

Research has proven that walking during the day can help people with Alzheimer’s or dementia sleep better at night. While caregivers should ensure that their loved ones get plenty of rest and don’t become overly fatigued, being physically active is a great way to promote sleep—plus, it’s good for caregivers, too.

3. Use light therapy

Exposure to bright outdoor light can assist people with Alzheimer’s or dementia keep the circadian rhythm (the body’s inner clock) on track, helping them to better recognize when it’s time to go to bed. For older adults who can’t spend at least an hour a day outside, a special lamp can help to recreate natural light indoors. Light (or the lack of it) is important at night, too—make sure that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia sleep in darkness.

4. Limit caffeine intake

Too much caffeine during the day can interfere with sleep at night for anyone, but this is especially true for people with Alzheimer’s. Caregivers should make sure their loved ones don’t consume too much caffeine during the day to help them sleep easier at nighttime. Coffee and colas are an obvious source of caffeine, but watch out for chocolate and ice cream (coffee or chocolate flavors), which can be sneaky sources of caffeine, too.

5. Strategically plan the day

Planning activities that require more energy during the morning or afternoon can help people with Alzheimer’s or dementia become less stimulated before bed and ready to sleep in the evening. For instance, bathing should be a morning task and the biggest meal of the day should be eaten in the afternoon not the evening, according to the National Institute on Aging.

6. Create a calming environment

Having a relaxing routine can help people with Alzheimer’s or dementia sleep—and stay asleep—easier. This can include anything from drinking a glass of warm milk to playing soothing music to the elimination of loud noises and bright lights.

7. Ask about medication

If non-drug approaches to sleep aren’t working, a doctor can prescribe a sleep-inducing medication to help. While medications can trigger other side effects, they can be helpful for both caregivers and their loved ones to establish a sleep routine. Common sleep-inducing medications for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia include the supplement melatonin and trazodone, a prescription antidepressant also used for insomnia. Caregivers should consult their loved one’s primary care doctor or neurologist to determine the best treatment and course of action.

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