Dementia Support

My parent or spouse can’t sleep at night because of dementia

October 26, 2021

It’s exhausting living with someone who has sleep problems related to dementia.

Maybe they’re sleepy during the day but restless during the night. When you finally manage to get them to bed, they either don’t fall asleep or they wake up prematurely. The net result is you don’t get much sleep yourself, and it’s catching up with you. You’re more irritable than normal. And most days you feel like you’re walking through a fog. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 25% of people with mild to moderate dementia have a sleep disturbance. That number rises to 50% for people with severe dementia.

Reasons for dementia-associated sleep problems

The Sleep Foundation reports that the part of the brain that serves as our internal clock is directly affected by Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. Not only that, people with dementia experience less deep and REM sleep as their condition progresses.

A number of other things can also disturb someone’s sleep patterns when they have dementia:

  • Mental and physical exhaustion at the end of the day
  • Disorientation
  • Reduced lighting and increased shadows, which can cause people with dementia to become confused and afraid
  • Sleep apnea (more common in people with dementia)

What to do about it

So, what can you do to help someone with dementia sleep at night? Here are a few suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Treat underlying problems like depression, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome
  • Establish regular times for eating, waking, and going to bed
  • Avoid stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at night. Also avoid TV.
  • Encourage physical activity during the day
  • Discourage afternoon napping 
  • Set a peaceful mood in the evening
  • Check with their doctor to see whether some of their medications may be causing insomnia
Woman laying down looking at alarm clock
It’s exhausting living with someone who has sleep problems related to dementia

In-the-moment tactics

But what if, despite your best efforts, the person still won’t go to sleep? For family caregivers, this can be the biggest challenge, especially when they’re at the end of their rope.

Convincing someone with dementia to go to bed can feel like a war of wills. The trick is not to let things escalate. If they’re digging in, don’t argue. It won’t work. Neither will physically dragging them to bed. Chances are one or both of you will only end up getting hurt.

If they have some illogical reason for not going to bed, don’t contradict them. Appear to take their reason seriously, so that they feel heard. Then take some action to ease their anxiety. For instance, if they’re worried about the house burning down while they’re asleep, tell them you can understand why that might be concerning to them, then walk them around the house to “check” that things are safe. This may be enough to settle them down and let you gently direct them to bed, particularly if you distract them with friendly conversation at the same time.

If they’re still not ready, back off and try again later.

What if nothing works?

Although these tips can be helpful, nothing is foolproof. If you’ve tried them all and you’re still woken up at night by a spouse or parent who can’t sleep because of their dementia, you’re more than likely beyond exhausted. 

How long can you keep this up? It’s a fair question, even if you may feel guilty for asking it. 

Is there someone else in your family who can take over from you some nights so that you get uninterrupted sleep at least some of the time? 

If not, is it time to consider a move to a retirement community with memory care where someone is available throughout the night to calm them and make sure they stay safe?

This is a big step to consider. At Tea and Toast, we get it. We’ve spoken with dozens of families in your very situation. Many are reluctant to consider memory care, but those who do often express relief after their spouse or parent makes the move. Relief that they can now sleep through the night. And relief knowing their family member with dementia is well looked after 24/7.

Are you struggling because you live with someone whose sleep is disrupted by dementia? Contact us. We’re here to listen. Plus, we can give you an overview of memory care options in the Ottawa area. It will save you hours trying to research them yourself. And as you well know, there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Related posts

7 Different Ways to Pay for Assisted Living or Memory Care in Ottawa

Helping a Parent With Dementia Settle Into Memory Care

Read next

Recommended read