Sleep Problems with Dementia

Mar 4, 2022 | Caregivers

Problems with sleep are common in older adults, but people with dementia have a much more difficult time.

As a caretaker of a loved one with dementia, frequent sleep disturbances can be stressful, and they can lead to mental and physical exhaustion for everyone involved.

It may seem like your loved one doesn’t want to go to sleep at all, as if they have their days and nights mixed up.

But they may also be waking up at all hours of the night, walking around, shuffling through belongings, coming into your room, or yelling from their bed.

The initial steps that you can take to help your loved one (and you) get a better night’s sleep are to understand what can cause the sleep issues and to rule any contributing factors out.

Why People with Dementia Do Not Sleep Well

Studies have found that an average of one-fourth to one-third of people with dementia suffer from insomnia due to the brain changes that occur with the disease.

Age is another large part of it, as the quality of sleep naturally deteriorates in seniors – causing people to sleep less and to wake up more often.

Some of the factors that can trigger sleep difficulties in dementia include:

Disruption of a person’s “internal body clock”

Sleeping too much during the day, making it difficult to go to sleep at night. Too much activity in the evening.


Caused by too much activity or illness

Low or dim lighting and shadows

This can cause disruption of the person’s light and dark cycle prior to or during bedtime.

Disruption of the daily schedule or routine

This can include shifts in medical care or staff

Large meals and the consumption of sugar, caffeine, or alcohol

These types of meals can cause sleep disruptions and other sleep-related problems

These are also the same situations that can aggravate sundown syndrome in people with dementia, which is a state of confusion that occurs later in the day and into the night with behaviors that include sleeplessness, anxiety, aggression, mood swings, hallucinations, pacing, wandering, and yelling.

Rule Out Contributing Factors

As dementia progresses, people become less able to articulate the issues that can contribute to sleep disruptions, such as physical discomfort, pain, anxiety, or fear.

As a caregiver, you dedicate your very best to ensure the health and welfare of the one that you love, and a large piece of your role is to have an awareness and an understanding of your loved one’s behaviors, and what might contribute to a shift in behaviors – but you cannot do this entirely alone.

Your first and best outlet is your loved one’s physician.

Take your observations of behaviors and sleep issues to the physician.

The physician will help you identify and treat the source of the sleep disruptions:

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Breathing difficulties (such as snoring, pauses in respiration)

  • Excessive body movements (such as restless leg syndrome or limb movement disorder)

  • Metabolic syndromes (such as diabetes and thyroid dysfunctions)

  • Cancer

  • Medications that are affecting sleep quality

Sleep Aids

Physicians typically do not prescribe sleep aids in dementia patients.

These medications can worsen cognition and can interfere with the patient’s mobility.

Your loved one’s doctor may suggest a dosage of over-the-counter melatonin, taken 30 minutes before bedtime, to help restore a natural sleep cycle.

Set a Routine

Routines promote a sense of having more control in life, which supports the formation of healthy habits, and encourages the individual with dementia to maximize their physical and cognitive abilities – making an impact on health, wellness, and overall quality of life – and sleep!

Change in routine is a key contributing factor to agitation, anxiety, fear, and the disruption of healthy sleep patterns in those with dementia.

A routine that supports a quiet and peaceful mood in the evening can help your loved one relax.

This might include low lighting, a reduction of noise levels, turning off the television, or playing relaxing music.

If your loved one likes to read, this can help them achieve restful sleep.

Or consider scheduling a time each evening when you read to your loved one – fifteen or twenty minutes may set the mood for sleep.

Remember, the importance of routine in dementia caregiving extends out to you too!

Both routine and schedule can provide you with the opportunity to partake in self-care and live your life with less stress.

Routine Respite Care

When you are at your best, your loved one knows it.

But sometimes we all need a little help to help us achieve our goals as caregivers.

There is no shame in scheduling routine respite care.

If you are in the Round Rock, Georgetown, or Austin, Texas area, we have created a Respite Program to give caregivers a needed and welcome break.

If you are seeking help for a few hours a day, or a few weeks a month, we are here to help.

When we care for ourselves, we can care better for our loved ones.