The Link Between Sleep and Alzheimer’s

January is Alzheimer’s awareness month in Canada. Alzheimer’s disease affects many older adults and can cause their thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time. These patients face numerous struggles with their day-to-day lives, including sleep.

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, there are a few important things to know about how their sleep can be affected, and how to help them.

 Common sleep problems amongst Alzheimer’s patients

  • Trouble falling and staying asleep: the sleep cycle of an Alzheimer’s patient does not typically follow the same pattern of a healthy adult. They tend to wake up more often in the night and have trouble falling back asleep and their brain works differently.
  • Daytime napping: many Alzheimer’s patients tend to feel drowsy during the day and restless and agitated in the evening hours, also known as “Sundowning.” This is extremely common amongst Alzheimer’s patients
  • Other medical issues: depression, restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea are all extremely common for Alzheimer’s patients and can negatively affect their sleep.

How to resolve these sleep issues

  • Establish a routine: it is important to keep consistency among daily activities such as mealtimes, medication, exercise and bedtime in order to promote a more restful sleep at night.
  • Avoid stimulants: alcohol, caffeine and nicotine should be avoided before bedtime. Over the counter sleep medications such as Melatonin can be helpful but check with a doctor first as this could negatively interfere with other medications.
  • Keep the bedroom comfortable: make sure the temperature in the room is comfortable and only use the bed for sleeping.
  • Try and discourage afternoon napping if possible, so that it doesn’t interfere with sleep
  • Promote relaxation in the evenings: limit the use of TV when it is close to bedtime. Instead, try listening to an audio book or playing peaceful music.
  • Be sure to speak to a doctor for treatment if there are medical issues interfering with a proper night’s sleep.

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