Alzheimer's and Insomnia: How to Help Your Loved One Get Some Sleep

Patient Expert

_Changes in sleep are common as people age. _ However, people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia are even more likely to experience disordered sleep. Some of the more common sleep problems include:

  • Trouble falling asleep at night
  • Trouble staying asleep at night
  • Staying awake all night and sleeping during the day
  • 'Sundowning,' or becoming especially confused during the evening and nighttime hour

If your loved one with Alzheimer's disease is experiencing sleep difficulties, there are several interventions you can try. Don't give up if your first efforts don't work. Every person is unique, and what works for one individual may not work as well for another.

1. Maintain a daily routine

Encourage your loved one to go to bed at the same time each night and to get up at the same time each morning and schedule predictable activities throughout the day.

An example routine could be:

In the morning: Go for a walk with your loved one.

After lunch: Catch up with chores, run errands, read, or watch television.

After dinner: Opt for relaxing activities such as listening to quiet music.

Try to help your loved one avoid napping during the day, because this may make it harder for him or her to sleep at night.** 2. Exercise**

People of all ages can benefit from a regular exercise program. Get your loved one involved in low-impact activities such as:

Exercise has the greatest effect on insomnia if it is performed during the morning or early afternoon hours. Don't engage in vigorous exercise within three or four hours of bedtime.

Exercise releases endorphins, the "feel-good" chemicals that produce a runner's high. A body flooded with endorphins may have trouble relaxing enough to allow sleep to come.

3. See the light

Light therapy involves using a bluish-white light source to expose your loved one to a few hours of light during the day.

Light therapy can help reset your loved one's circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. If you live in an area with a lot of natural sunlight, plan plenty of outdoor activities during the day. These may include walking, gardening or just sitting on the porch and enjoying a cup of caffeine-free tea.

If sunlight is in short supply, you may want to consider purchasing a specialized light therapy lamp - be sure to choose one that emits at least 10,000 lux of light.

4. Consider melatonin

Melatonin, a natural supplement, is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Since people with dementia typically take several medications, check with your loved one's doctor before giving your loved one melatonin. This can help you avoid unpleasant medication interactions.

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training course. His course will teach you how to how to fall asleep and stay asleep. Over 4,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.

See more helpful articles:

What to Do When Your Partner Has Insomnia

Four Things to Avoid When You Have Insomnia

What Are the Best and Worst Medications for Insomnia?