Sleep disturbance and waking up at night

Sleep disturbances are common for people with dementia, and often lead to carers also having problems sleeping.

A person with dementia may keep getting up during the night and may become disorientated when they wake up. They may get dressed or try to leave the house. This might make the person tired during the day and they may sleep for long periods, which might be very stressful for you. The person may have problems during the night but not realise they’ve had them.

Dementia can affect a person’s sleep patterns. This is separate and different from normal sleep difficulties that come with getting older. It can cause problems with the sleep-wake cycle and also interfere with the person’s ‘body clock’. Disturbed sleep can have a negative impact on a person’s wellbeing (and those living with them). The tips below may help.

Sleep disturbance – tips for carers

  • Make sure the person has plenty of daylight and things to do during the day.
  • Think about improving the sleeping environment. Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature with the right amount of light. If it’s too light, consider blackout blinds.
  • Avoid drinks containing caffeine (such as tea, coffee and cola) after 2pm.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening.
  • Consider a clock next to the bed that shows whether it’s day or night.
  • If the person likes to have something to cuddle, consider a soft toy.
  • Going for a walk, having a warm milky drink, or having a bath or shower before bed may help the person relax.
  • Gentle exercise may help someone to sleep – but they should try to avoid exercise too close to bedtime.
  • Make sure the person’s home is safe – leave a light on in the hall and toilet; consider a nightlight in the bedroom and remove any trip hazards (for example loose rugs or furniture in the way).
  • If the person wakes up at night, try gently reminding them that it’s night-time.
  • Having a low mood can contribute to poor sleep. If you think the person may be depressed see the GP.
National Dementia Helpline
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