Sleep Issues and Insomnia with Alzheimer's

Leah Health Guide
  • Time for a quiz:

    What is the name for “the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored”? (definition by Mirriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary)


    The answer has five letters.    S L E E P


    I’m pretty sure that most of you knew the answer, but how many are actually on a name-to-name basis with the concept?  Anyone with dementia has or will someday experience problems with sleeping.  This blog is dealing with it because I, with vascular dementia, am going through yet another period of sleeplessness.  My problem is that I don’t get into the slow wave sleep…or, if I do get all the way to REM sleep, I awaken immediately afterward when I begin a more shallow level of sleep. 

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                “Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving affectedly—are done    worst when we try hardest to do them.”  C.S. Lewis


    I try to get sleep. The other night, I could not sleep. AGAIN.   I had taken a sleeping aid which had usually helped in the past.  This particular night, I slept for two hours and laid awake for two more.  Finally I got up at 1 AM and began to research about sleep and dementia, figuring  that if I couldn’t sleep, I’d at least read about it!!!  At 5 AM, Bill found me (having finished my research) playing free online video games.


    On my shoulders sit two little beings…on one shoulder sits the devil which sees sleep much in the same way as Benjamin Franklin: “There will be sleeping enough in the grave.” I wish I didn’t have to sleep.  I enjoy life too much.  I enjoy LIVING life too much.  There is too much to see and do.  On my other shoulder sits the angel who reminds me of the recuperative qualities of sleep. Joining into this dichotomy of thoughts is my body which is moaning and groaning when it doesn’t get the sleep it needs.


    In my research, I found that AD and dementia sufferers show an increased length of Stage 1 sleep, which is light sleep, and decreased lengths of Stages 2, 3, and REM.

    • Stage 1 is drowsiness, which usually lasts 5-10 minutes.
    • Stage 2 is light sleep
    • Stages 3 and 4 are deeper sleep
    • Stage 5 is REM (Rapid Eye Movements) sleep.  It is dream sleep which begins about 70-90 minutes after Stage 1.  Normal people usually have 3-5 REM each night.  It is during this stage that you get the most restorative sleep.

    The problem with increased periods of light sleep lies in the fact that, during this time, one is easily awakened. Every noise, every time I move, even the discomfort of being warm or cold will awaken me.  Any kind of discomfort will bring me out of sleep.   I read that even dehydration can cause problems with sleep.  The sleep disturbances with dementia include fragmented sleep with frequent awakenings and difficulty initiating sleep.  At more severe levels of dementia, nocturnal wandering and confusion and sundowning can be experienced.  Increased daytime napping may become frequent.  Most resources state that older adults need 7-8 hours of continual sleep, but such levels could be lower when associated with a naptime.


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    During my noctural research, I found a couple of interesting websites:

    • is the University of Maryland Sleep Disorders Center site which offers their Epworth Sleepiness Scale to test how sleepy you are during the day.  It was easy and quick and accurate—at least for me!
    •  At the very least, it is entertaining, but you can go from that site to others for tests of memory.


    In my next blog, I will continue with the sleep problem and information.  I am gathering informational tips for senior citizens and those of us with dementia on how to get a better night’s sleep.


Published On: May 29, 2009