Caregiver Tips on Coping with Sleep Problems in Alzheimer's Disease

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • If you give care to someone with Alzheimer's who also has a disruptive sleep pattern, their lack of sleep quickly becomes your lack of sleep! It is exhausting for everyone. Sleep problems are common in people with dementia and can occur at any stage of Alzheimer's disease. Here are a few issues you need to think about and a few caregiver tips you can try that may well resolve the problem of disruptive sleep patterns.


    Causes of Disruptive Sleep Patterns 

    The first thing you have to think about is whether there is an obvious reason why he/she is not sleeping properly? Having said that, I know the 'obvious' is all too apparent with hindsight, but it can actually take time to work out what is happening.

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    Keep a Diary Recording Sleep Patterns 

    I suggest you keep a diary. Record times he goes to bed, how often he gets up and at what time, if he goes back to sleep, and when he gets up. Do this for a few days (at least 2) without trying any interventions.


    Then try one intervention at a time. I suggest things/activities in an order of importance.


    Illnesses and Disease can Cause Sleep Problems

     Is there a physical reason for his sleeplessness such as constipation, needing the bathroom, an infection, such as a urinary tract infection, joint pains from arthritis etc. Pain and discomfort is a common problem for older people. Getting a doctor to check him/her out is important if you think there is an underlying health problem that needs treatment.

    Research shows that often people are prescribed analgesics (pain tablets) but they may not be given enough.


    Sleepin Too Much in the Day

    Does he sleep too much in the day. Again this is a common problem. Caregivers, especially caregivers who are tired or pushed for time, use the break to attend to their own things. It can present problems keeping them awake, but a good night sleep makes the effort rewarding!


    Activities to Interest and Use up Energy

    Does he/she have a program of activities that allow him to use up energy in the day? Walks, painting, gardening, a drive out to a café, park, offer interest to their day, keep older people mobile, tire them out and contribute to a better sleep.


    More  on Activities for Dementia Patients


    Sleep Patterns and Sleep Problems

    Does he/she go to be too early?

    Problems with getting to sleep-anxiety, depression can change sleep patterns.

    Relaxation prior to bedtime helps. Play soft gentle music, help them take a bath, have their room at a comfortable temperature.



    Sleep Problems in Care Facilities

    Resolutions for Sleep Impairment


    Toileting Trips

    If the need for the bathroom seems to disrupt sleep there are two main approaches. First reduce liquids in the evening (but make sure he gets enough in the day). Think about a regular toileting program in the night. Start with an early morning bathroom trip about the time he usually wakes up and see if this helps. You may need to increase bathroom trips.


    Urinary or fecal incontinence disrupts sleep and require regular hygeine and a regular toilet program.


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    More on Treatments for Incontinence


    Dietry Issues

    Avoid drinking coffee or tea prior to going to bed.

    Reduce liquids in the evening if bathroom trips are too frequent.

    If thirst or hunger causing problemss give a small drink and or a snack before returning him/her to bed


    Minimize Social Interaction at Night

    During any of these intervention try not to talk too much. Keep night time conversations to a minimum, keep your voice soft, reassure him, then take him back to bed.  



    Avoid bright lighting at night during bathroom trips. A small night light is a good idea.


    In Summary

    Remember try one new thing for a few days, keep an accurate record to see what works.


    If the person continues to have sleep problems take them back to see the doctor and discuss medications with him/her. The diary in which you have recorded his/her sleep patterns will help him with diagnosis and treatment.

Published On: October 22, 2009