Changing Sleep Patterns in Dementia

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • Sleep problems are common for people with dementia but then insufficient and disruptive sleep affects vast numbers of people generally. Of the current three hundred and eighteen millions of Americans, it is estimated that over 70 million suffer chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 


    Changes in sleep pattern and insufficient sleep are associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions. Most common amongst these are diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Sleep disruptions have been identified by researchers to be an early sign of dementia and there have been a number of research papers detailing sleep changes. For example, research suggests that rapid eye movement (REM) behavior sleep disorder may precede the development of Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia decades before these disorders advance to other signs and symptoms.

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    Age is the main risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, many older people have a number of chronic diseases that can lead to and cause a poor night’s sleep. The brain damage that occurs with Alzheimer’s can damage or atrophy an area called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus of the brain. This area is responsible for controlling our sleep-wake patterns. This is just one example of brain damage causing sleep disruption.


    It is important that caregivers know the sleep problems a loved one is experiencing often has a cause. Some of the causes ,such as inactivity, hunger or thirst, noise or too much light, you can do more easily do something about. Organic changes in the body and brain may have more complex resolutions.


    Research published this month has reiterated the idea that light treatment can improve sleep, depression and the agitation that can occur in dementia. The American Academyof Sleep Medicine presented a paper in June at the 28th annual meeting of Sleep 2014. The pilot study involved 14 nursing homes that care for people with dementia. A light source that produced low levels of 300 to 400 lux of bluish-white light was installed in resident’s rooms. The light exposure occurred during the day over a four week period. The researchers collected light/dark and activity and rest period data and questionnaires measured sleep quality, depression and agitation information.


    Nursing staff reported that residents were calmer, ate better and “their overall behavior was more manageable”.


    Links to further information you might find interesting;

    Caregiver tips on coping with disruptive sleep in Alzheimer's disease


    US population clock shows how quickly the US and the World population is growing.


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    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics on sleep disruption ).


    D. O. Claassen, K. A. Josephs, J. E. Ahlskog, M. H. Silber, M. Tippmann-Peikert, and B. F. Boeve. REM sleep behavior disorder preceding other aspects of synucleinopathies by up to half a century. Neurology, 2010; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181ec7fac


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    Society of Nuclear Medicine. "REM sleep disturbance signals future neurodegenerative disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily,9 June 2014. <>.

Published On: June 19, 2014