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Ingleside at Rock Creek Blog

IRC Blog
Posted: Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Challenges to Sleep for Those Living with Alzheimer’s

Getting a good night’s sleep is something many people take for granted. But if you’re caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s, it may become more difficult.

Although scientists still don’t know for sure why sleep disruption is often an accompanying behavioral change, many caregivers are looking for ways they can help their loved ones get the restful sleep that is still needed.

Sleeping challenges and Alzheimer’s

Sleep often becomes a challenge for someone who has been diagnosed with dementia. It is more common in the later stages of the illness but can occur at any time.

The Alzheimer’s Association notes that sleep disruptions often result from:

1. Difficulty sleeping

Your loved one may wake up more and stay awake longer during the night. Studies have shown there to be a decrease in both dreaming and non-dreaming stages. Other behaviors that may also occur include wandering, being unable to lie still and yelling or calling out.

2. Shifts in the sleep-wake cycle

Another contributor to a disruption in sleep may result from changes in the sleep-wake cycle. Napping during the day may be unavoidable but makes it difficult to sleep at night. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals may spend an estimated 40% of their time in bed awake during the night and a significant portion of the day sleeping.

Rule out any medical reasons for sleep disruption

It’s important to rule out or be aware of other reasons that may cause or contribute to an interruption in sleep. Before assuming it is the result of Alzheimer’s, it’s recommended that your loved one have a medical exam. Other factors that can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep may include:

  • Depression

  • Restless leg syndrome

  • Sleep apnea

  • Medication

Suggestions to help improve sleep

When considering possible options to try if your loved one is struggling to sleep, both non-drug and drug choices are available. But most professionals recommend trying strategies that involve behavioral and environmental changes first.

You may want to consider the following ideas:

  • Maintain a regular schedule for mealtimes, going to bed and waking up

  • Make sure your loved one receives morning sunlight exposure

  • Encourage daily exercise, but not within four hours of bedtime

  • Encourage your loved one to avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine

  • If pain is being experienced, explore best ways to treat

  • Talk to the medical team if certain medications or times given might be causing sleep disruption

  • Create a comfortable bedroom for sleep, including temperature and lighting levels

  • Discourage watching television before bed or when awake during the night

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

Help for the sleep deprived caregiver

Getting enough sleep is necessary for both physical and cognitive health. However, if your loved one is unable to sleep through the night it likely means you are also being deprived.

Lacking sleep can interfere with your body and mind’s ability to heal, function and process information. Your reaction times may be delayed, your coordination may decrease and your mental and emotional state can be affected.

You also might experience daytime fatigue, irritability and sleepiness. Unfortunately, you may eventually find yourself struggling to provide quality care for your loved one.  

While trying the above suggestions may help, what can you do if they don’t provide enough of a break to allow you to get the rest that you also need?

You may want to consider these options:

1. Get educated

Start by learning everything you can about how to help your loved one sleep during the night. Talking to your medical team, researching online, asking family and friends who may have experience in this or reaching out to a support group or other organizations may provide alternatives for you to try.

2. Ask for help

Caregivers often hesitate to ask for assistance but it is very difficult to carry out all the responsibilities on your own. If you’re not able to sleep during the night, you may not be able to catch up during the day while still watching over your loved one. Ask family or friends for a two-hour break so you can take a short nap or rest.

3. Consider formal care

If the lack of sleep is worsening, you may want to check into home care services to allow you to plan for relief on a regular basis. Having consistent breaks so that you can catch up on your sleep can make a big difference. And knowing that your loved one will be well cared for during this time can also help you rest easier.

4. Consider what a memory support assisted living community can offer

For many families, there may come a time when a more long-term solution may be needed. Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness and the behavioral changes that occur will likely increase. 

Caregivers may find that they are no longer able to provide the type and level of care needed. Considering a memory support assisted living community may be the right answer to provide the kind of care that may also improve your loved one’s quality of life.

Ingleside at Rock Creek Memory Support Assisted Living

Sleep disruption is often a symptom of Alzheimer’s and unfortunately will usually result in the caregiver’s lack of sleep as well. We hope the above suggestions are helpful if your family is experiencing this.

As Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness, if the time does come when a higher level of care is needed we hope you’ll consider Ingleside at Rock Creek Memory Support Assisted Living. 

Our compassionate staff, therapies, programs and residences are all designed to provide our residents with the highest level of care, independence and dignity. We are also a supportive resource to our families.

Please visit our website for more information. Call (202) 846-2651 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.



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