Sleep is a common source of stress for dementia patients’ caregivers and family members. Understanding the factors that cause the person with dementia to have sleep problems can help you manage this problem and make care easier for both you and your loved one.
Sleep changes come with aging. Healthy adults also experience changes in sleep patterns as they age. These sleep changes are considered a normal part of aging, as aging is associated with changes in the circadian rhythm (the body’s inner process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle within a 24-hour day).
However, in people with dementia, these changes are more common. The brain deterioration caused by dementia affects the brain’s ability to sleep and causes problems with circadian rhythm.
Research shows that sundown syndrome causes as many as 20 percent of patients with Alzheimer’s to experience increased anxiety, confusion, and agitation as the evening approaches. Many persons with dementia also experience restlessness and changes in their sleep during the night.
The disruption in your loved one’s sleep-wake cycle may lead to other behavioral and emotional issues.
In patients with Lewy-body dementia and Parkinson’s, there is a sleep disorder known as REM sleep behavior disorder, which can cause violent movements during sleep.
Some other factors that cause dementia patients’ insomnia include mental and physical exhaustion at the end of the day, confusion and fear triggered by reduced lighting and increased shadows, and disorientation because of the inability to separate dreams from reality.
Why Do Dementia Patients Sometimes Sleep So Much?
Some people with dementia, especially patients in advanced stages, spend a lot of their time sleeping. As dementia progresses, the brain impairment becomes greater, causing the person to become exhausted with activities of daily living and other daily tasks and sleep more both during the day and night. For a person with advanced dementia, even a simple task like eating may be draining.
Also, some medications may contribute to your loved one’s sleepiness. These include antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and sleeping pills that may contribute to sleepiness.