One of the most difficult aspects of living with dementia can be a change in sleeping habits. Lack of sleep can make confusion worse and the fatigue can be debilitating, affecting the person’s ability to participate in tasks of daily living, hobbies or interests.
Sleep deprivation can also impact a person’s mental health, including contributing to depression or anxiety. For some people with dementia, and especially Dementia with Lewy bodies, nighttime hallucinations can be very disturbing.
If you are a family carer trying to support a person with dementia, the impact on your sleep can also be significant and may lead to professional care being sought, especially for a period of respite. Our live-in care can be arranged to include nighttime support to ensure minimal disruption to other family members in the household and optimum support to help the person at night.
What can be done to help a person with dementia to sleep better?
Although there isn’t an exact science to supporting a person to sleep better, here are a few ways in which our live-in carers support our clients with dementia to have a more restful night’s sleep:
- A comfy bed. The person’s bed needs to be optimized for them with covers that provide the right level of warmth, plus supportive pillows – this may require lots of experimentation. Some of our clients replace their mattress if it’s over 8 years old, and this alone can make a difference to comfort levels at night. More information on when to replace a mattress is available from the Sleep Council.
- Creating the right bedroom environment. The person’s bedroom needs to be the right temperature (cool is better than hot), dark (but with very subtle lighting available if the person needs to get out in the night), and have curtains or blinds that block out any street lighting or early-morning daylight in the summer. Beware of any shadows in the room that may frighten the person. Opening a window prior to going to bed or keeping one open during the night (if the neighbourhood isn’t noisy) may help to provide fresh air to enable more restful sleep. Use window restrictors if the person is in danger of trying to climb out of the window.
- Adjusting mealtime routines. Ideally it’s best not to eat too close to bedtime or so far away from bedtime that the person gets hungry. Our live-in carers sometimes gradually adjust mealtimes to ensure the person’s appetite is satisfied but they aren’t getting over-full or uncomfortable. It can also be helpful to think about what is eaten in the evenings, and avoid things like spicy or very rich foods.
- Getting hydration right. Drinking too much too close to bedtime is likely to result in more toilet trips after the person is in bed. Our live-in carers encourage our clients to have small sips to satisfy their thirst, and minimise or avoid caffeine later in the day. Remember that although alcohol can make a person sleepy, it can also result in poorer quality sleep and it shouldn’t be used as a sleeping aid.
- What about medication side-effects? Is the person’s medication causing side-effects that are either disturbing their sleep or making them sleepy in the daytime, thus diminishing their sleep drive at night? If you think this is the case speak to the person’s GP to see if their medication regime can be changed.
- Having a winding down period. In the run-up to bedtime, turn off screens, have low-level lighting (avoid blue light and opt for amber or red light – an example here: Amazon book light, support the person to try meditation, bedtime yoga, aromatherapy or a warm bath. The person may want to read a book themselves, or have a book read to them either by their live-in carer, a relative or via an app that provides sleep stories (such as Calm).
- Thinking about emotional wellbeing. If the person is going to bed with worries or anxieties, support them to discuss those concerns and perhaps write them down or make a list. If the person is experiencing vivid nighttime hallucinations, provide reassurance alongside following the advice from the Alzheimer’s Society.
- Coping with a return to early-life routines. If a person with dementia was, for example, once a postman or a milkman, or used to getting up early to commute to work, they may begin to go back to these routines. Try to support this rather than arguing with the person, and gradually adjust the person’s day so that they are still in bed long enough to get some sleep whilst getting up early.
- Beware of naps! Napping can be lovely, but too long or too regular naps can play havoc with nighttime sleeping. Our live-in carers aim to support the person to remain active and engaged during the day, exposing them to as much natural light as possible – think outdoor exercise!
- Using technology. A family carer may rest more easily if a sensor is used to alert them when the person gets out of bed. It may also be helpful to have a dementia clock (not necessarily in the person’s bedroom) to help to orientate the person to time and place.
If, despite everything you’ve tried, the person wakes during the night, support them to use the toilet and eat or drink small amounts as required. Just keep lighting low, avoid screens, and try a sleep story to help the person to relax. Check out these tips from The Sleep Charity for further support.
Find out more about how ENA Care Group could support you or your family by calling 0800 4334 413 or emailing .