Opening Your Eyes to the Connection Between Dementia and Sleep
Dementia and Sleep

Opening Your Eyes to the Connection Between Dementia and Sleep

Dementia usually results in a host of symptoms from memory loss and mood changes to reduced ability to perform activities of daily living. However, did you know there is also a strong connection between Dementia and sleep difficulties? 

Since sleep helps to regulate mood, not getting enough can worsen your behavior or increase irritability and emotional instability. In addition, waking up throughout the night or excessive moving during sleep can keep caregivers and/or spouses up at night as well. 

Let’s take a closer look at the connection between Dementia and sleep, as well as ways to reduce the effects of sleep disturbances. 

Sleep Changes for People Diagnosed

There are several reasons people affected by Dementia may develop sleep problems. Symptoms include difficulty falling or staying asleep, excessive movements, and abnormal breathing during sleep. These symptoms are related to sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea which can be properly diagnosed by your doctor. 

There may also be an increase in behavioral problems as nighttime approaches, which is referred to as sundowning. Nevertheless, sleep changes are generally linked to the following five common factors:

Aging

Reduced sleep time, lighter sleep states, and less time in REM (deep) sleep are common in aging adults. This may make it easier to wake during the night or awake earlier than normal. These normal changes can occur more frequently or become chronic in those with Dementia due to brain cell damage that disturbs the normal sleep-wake cycle. Other possible spin-off effects are confusion, disorientation, or difficulty telling day from night.

Reduced Brain Functions

Scientists have yet to suggest the exact cause of these and other sleep changes but believe that they are generally related to the effects of the impact of Dementia on the brain. For example, brain deterioration may disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake rhythms. This can result in more awake and less sleep time. You or your loved one with Dementia may also spend less time in deep sleep. 

Increase in Amyloid Levels

An increase in a protein called beta-amyloid in the brain may be associated with poor sleep quality in those with Dementia. The protein is suggested to cause problems with storing memories during sleep. Additionally, research suggests that sleep deprivation may affect the body's ability to get rid of toxic amyloid from the brain leading to elevated levels of the protein.

Medications

Certain medications have been suggested to cause side effects that include difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Other medications may cause frequent urination, requiring you wake up several times during the night. Additionally, if you or your loved one are on medication for anxiety or depression, some side effects may include:

  • Chronic sleep deprivation
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering

Medications such as sleeping pills or antidepressants prescribed for anxiety or depression can also increase daytime sleepiness.

Other Chronic Conditions

The presence of other chronic conditions known to interfere with sleep may also have an effect on people living with Dementia. These chronic conditions include sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome. Secondary sleep problems such as acid reflux, heart or lung problems, arthritis pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, or depression are also suggested to be linked to underlying health problems.

How to Improve Sleep Problems Linked to Dementia

It is suggested that certain lifestyle changes may help to improve the quality of sleep in a person with living with Alzheimer’s or a related form of Dementia. The exact approach may depend on what is causing the sleep problems. Below are some tips that may potentially improve present sleep complications. 

  • Have a Regular Sleep & Wake Time - Ensuring that you or your loved one goes to bed at a set time each night and wake-up around the same time each morning may help to regulate their inner body clock. It may also increase sleep time and deep sleep.
  • Create a Sleep Conducive Environment - Keeping the bedroom as cozy and dark as possible may help the body fall and stay asleep. Blackout drapes can drown out lights from outside the room. Turn off the television, radio, or other sound systems to create a quiet atmosphere.
  • Encourage More Daytime Activity - Having your loved one stay physically active during the day by walking or doing light exercises may help increase tiredness and improve nighttime sleepiness.

Caregiver Tips to Improve Sleep

As a caregiver, you can also benefit from these suggested lifestyle adjustments. Additionally, it is suggested that cutting off caffeine intake 6 hours before your bedtime and avoiding alcohol may have an influence on getting a good night’s sleep. Applying these and other sleep improvement tips can improve your mood and position you to provide better quality care for your loved one living with Dementia.

Contact Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation 

At LIAF, we offer a full range of innovative day programs designed to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia remain active and engaged throughout the day. All of our programs are designed to be stage specific, such as:

In addition, we offer several caregiver support groups and respite programs to help everyone enjoy a higher quality of sleep. 

Contact LIAF today to learn more about our services and how we can help families impacted by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

About the Author Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation

At the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation (LIAF) our mission is to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, and their caregivers. We actively work to achieve this mission through research-based programming for all stages of Alzheimer’s, Caregiver Support Groups, in-home respite solutions, transportation options, and additional services.

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