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Sleep issues experienced by individuals with dementia

A Good Night’s Sleep is Powerful Medicine for Those with Dementia

We have all experienced the negative impact of lack of sleep. We are less alert, more irritable, and find it hard to get through the day. There is a good reason for this. As the National Institutes for Health notes, sleep is known to improve memory recall, regulate metabolism, and reduce mental fatigue. That is why a recommendation of a minimum of seven hours of sleep per day is optimal to retain healthy cognitive and behavioral function.

A good night’s sleep is even more important for individuals with dementia.

According to studies, individuals with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, tend to experience more sleep issues than healthy individuals. While the reasons for this are not fully understood, sleep deprivation can result from the impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain.

One way to tackle sleep issues for a loved one with dementia is through medications. However, the Alzheimer’s Association has published a list non-drug strategies that should be tried first. We have summarized them below:

  1. Keep to a schedule. That is important not only for bedtime and wake time but also for meals and other daily routines.
  2. Optimize bedroom lighting and temperature. Make sure nightlights are strong enough to light a path but dim enough to not interfere with sleep. Rooms that are too warm or too cold can also interfere with sleep.
  3. Reserve the bed for sleep. Discourage them from watching TV or other activities from bed before going to sleep.
  4. Let the sunlight in. Exposure to sunlight, especially morning sun helps retain a healthy circadian rhythm as well as promotes general wellbeing.
  5. Limit physical exercise at least four hours before bedtime. Daily exercise is beneficial, just make sure to wind it down well before your loved one plans to retire for the evening.
  6. Minimize the use of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. All three, in different ways, can have a negative impact on the body and interfere with sleep.
  7. Manage pain and/or discomfort. When an individual is not feeling well it will interfere with their ability to sleep. Make sure you are treating any chronic pain issues sufficiently to avoid unnecessary disruption to sleep.  
  8. Avoid certain medications prior to bedtime. These medications include cholinesterase inhibitors such as tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine, or galantamine.

Can a good night’s sleep help reduce the risk of developing dementia?

Yes! Studies have shown that for healthy individuals, getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce the risk of getting dementia. Furthermore, Harvard Medical School has cited studies from Toronto and Chicago researchers on individuals at a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease have shown that those who are able to achieve quality sleep reduced the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.

A good night’s sleep is powerful medicine. It has the ability to replenish and revitalize all areas of our bodies and brains. It’s time for family caregivers to take it seriously and make quality sleep a priority for your loved ones and yourself.