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Living with Alzheimer’s: How to Manage Sleep Issues

As we get older, it’s normal for our sleep patterns to change. However, for those with

Alzheimer’s disease, such changes are more complex. As the disease progresses, it can

contribute to sleep disturbances like fragmented sleep, changes to a person’s sleep

cycle, or sleep disorders that can disrupt a person’s daily activities. In this article, we’re

taking a look at how Alzheimer’s affects sleep, tips for effective sleep management, and

how Presidio’s Home Care Aides can provide the assistance your loved one needs to

establish a refreshing and restorative sleep routine.

How Does Alzheimer’s Affect Sleep?

We all know what it’s like to not get a full night’s sleep: we tend to be more irritable and

unable to think clearly because we’re tired. For loved ones living with dementia, lack of

sleep may worsen symptoms like restlessness, delusions and wandering. Experts don’t

fully understand why people with Alzheimer’s experience changes in their sleep

schedule, but have pointed to a few contributing factors.

Shifts in the sleep-wake cycle. Because they can’t sleep or stay asleep at night, people with dementia may feel drowsy during the day. They may become restless or agitated in the late afternoon/early evening (called “sundowning”). That disturbance to their body’s internal body clock makes it more difficult to get sufficient rest and spend enough time in deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Other medical conditions. From chronic pain to sleep-related disorders like Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) to mood disorders, a number of underlying health problems could also disrupt a person’s sleep schedule. For example:

  • OSA is a condition that causes abnormal breathing patterns where people stop breathing momentarily throughout the night.

  • With RLS, people experience a crawling or tingling sensation in the legs that can be alleviated by movement. Symptoms can worsen while resting and interrupt sleep.

  • Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are known contributors to sleep issues. Feeling sad or upset can make sleeping difficult.

Ways to Manage Sleep Disturbance

To counter sleep disturbances like the ones listed above, practicing good sleep hygiene

could help improve and manage your family member’s sleep issues. To cultivate an

inviting sleeping environment for a person with Alzheimer’s, caregivers can:

  • Encourage exercise. When it comes to a non-drug treatment for sleep issues, encouraging physical activity helps a dementia patient exert energy and get exposure to natural light. Light exposure is key to regulating a person’s circadian rhythm.

  • Limit napping. If possible, limiting a person’s daytime napping will prevent their body from reinforcing a dysfunctional sleep-wake pattern.

  • Set a sleep schedule. Maintaining regular times for daily activities, including sleep and wake-up times, establishes a consistent routine. It helps them understand and keep track of time. It also enables caregivers to optimize environmental cues so the individual may associate specific settings and behaviors with ease. For example, a dark and quiet room would signal that it’s time to rest.

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, which will make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. In contrast, even though alcohol might make someone feel sleepy, it’s likely they’ll experience more frequent awakenings, night sweats, and headaches. Alcohol can also affect melatonin production, the hormone that helps us feel sleepy at night.

  • Medication timing. Medications could interfere with sleep if taken later in the day. Pinpointing an ideal time for administering medications is one way to promote better sleep.

Best Sleep Positions

According to Medical News Today, the best sleeping positions for people with

Alzheimer’s is by sleeping on their side instead of on their back or stomach. Body

posture may affect the clearance of damaging brain proteins that could contribute to the

worsening of brain diseases.

How Home Care Aides Can Help Your Loved One Sleep Better

Presidio Home Care Aides understand that living with Alzheimer’s can be challenging,

but your loved one doesn’t have to navigate it alone. Our Home Care Aides are kind,

patient, and passionate professionals that can establish a consistent sleep schedule,

keep them active, and work directly with your medical team to deliver reassuring and

supportive care. Contact your local office today to learn more.

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