People living with dementia often have sleep issues. The Sleep Health Foundation estimates that up to half of all individuals with the condition are having difficulty in having a full night’s rest. Some even feel disoriented in the middle of the night to the point of getting up to wander around or get dressed as if to start their day.
Good sleep is important to improve daytime function and quality of life for the over 850,000 people with dementia living in the UK, according to the Dementia Statistics Hub. A lack of sleep can cause the person to feel tense, fall over, or have mood problems. But on the bright side, there are ways to help ensure that people with dementia, and those who take care of them, get better sleep.
Establish a regular sleeping routine
It’s important to establish a consistent schedule for waking up and getting to bed. Plus, it’s helpful if caregivers and family members try to replicate the former sleeping habits of people with dementia by letting them go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same times as they did in the past.
For those who may feel tired or irritable during the daytime, taking short naps is recommended. Although, try to make sure that these naps occur before, not after, lunchtime.
Prepare the sleeping environment
Another step towards getting a good night’s rest is to optimise the environmental cues in the bedroom. This process includes keeping the light out, minimising noise and other distractions, and making sure it is neither too hot nor too cold.
And like mentioned earlier, try to think about what people with dementia used to do to prepare themselves for sleep. They might have rituals like running a bath, listening to music, or watching TV. You can allow them to retain the same habits because the more familiar the routine is, the more relaxed or secure the person with dementia may feel, which will then help them sleep faster.
Minimise activity triggers and safety risks
Depending on the presence of light, people with dementia may also confuse night with daytime. Minimise safety risks by avoiding open doors or dark stairways which could cause accidents.
Moreover, try to put daytime clothes and activities out of sight when people with dementia are asleep, and keep a clock that not only tells the time but also whether it is morning or evening at their bedside table.
Another common problem for people with dementia is that they might be unable to recognise their own reflection. To avoid unnecessary distress in the middle of the night, put covers on mirrors as well.
Stay active during the day
It’s vital for people with dementia to stay active during the day. Being exposed to sunlight aids in regulating their body clock.
A light exercise, such as walking in the park, can be a good way for people with dementia to stay active. Caregivers and family members can also consider getting a pet to accompany people with dementia in such activities, as pet interaction has been known to combat loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression among people with dementia as explained by Kumba Dauda in a previous StoriiCare article.
Watch what they eat or drink
Getting plenty of fluids throughout the day is crucial too, as dehydration can worsen feelings of confusion or cause other illnesses. However, try to limit tea or coffee past the afternoon to promote better sleep.
Some varieties of food, especially those rich in magnesium and potassium, can help people with dementia sleep through their evenings and get more rest. See a guide on better sleep shared by Leesa includes a list of food with sleep-helping minerals and nutrients. A few examples were pointed out such as bananas, oranges, and berries, all of which can be consumed as light snacks.
Generally speaking, try to avoid large or sugary meals past 5 pm, as these can make it harder for people with dementia to fall asleep. In addition, it’s advisable to limit fluid intake a couple of hours before bed in order to lessen bathroom trips in the middle of the night.
While there is no universal solution to get people with dementia to have a full night’s rest, simple steps like those mentioned above can help loved ones with dementia have more restorative evenings. Better sleep can do wonders for the quality of life for those living with dementia, as well as for those who love and care for them.
Edith Clark: Edith is an Essex-based journalist and writer covering mental health and elderly care topics since 2012. Her hobbies include hiking, knitting, and taking care of her two dogs.