Alzheimer's: Managing sleep problems

If you're caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, sleep disturbances can take a toll on both of you. Here's help promoting a good night's sleep.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Sleep problems and Alzheimer's disease often go hand in hand. Understand what contributes to sleep problems in Alzheimer's — and what you can do to help.

Common Alzheimer's sleep problems

Many older adults have problems sleeping, but people who have Alzheimer's often have an even harder time. Problems include waking up more often, staying awake longer in the night and feeling drowsy during the day. People with Alzheimer's might also experience a state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and spanning into the night (sundowning). Sleep disturbances often increase as Alzheimer's progresses and can promote behavioral problems.

Factors that might contribute to Alzheimer's sleep disturbances include:

  • Mental and physical exhaustion at the end of the day
  • Changes in the body clock, causing people with Alzheimer's to mix up day and night
  • A need for less sleep, which is common among older adults
  • Disorientation
  • Reactions to nonverbal cues of frustration from exhausted caregivers at the end of the day
  • Reduced lighting and increased shadows, which can cause people with Alzheimer's to become confused and afraid

Supporting a good night's sleep

Sleep disturbances can take a toll on both you and your loved one. To promote better sleep:

  • Treat underlying conditions. If you suspect that an underlying condition — such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome — is interfering with your loved one's sleep, talk to his or her doctor.
  • Establish a routine. Maintain regular times for eating, waking up and going to bed.
  • Avoid stimulants. Limit your loved one's use of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, which can interfere with sleep. Also, discourage your loved one from watching TV immediately before bedtime or when he or she wakes up at night.
  • Encourage physical activity. Plan your loved one's days to include walks and other physical activities, which can help promote better sleep at night.
  • Limit daytime sleep. If your loved one needs a nap, keep it short and make sure it's not too late in the day.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Make sure your loved one's bedroom is a comfortable temperature. Provide night lights and security objects.
  • Manage medications. Make sure your loved one is taking his or her medications at the appropriate times so that they don't interfere with sleep.
Nov. 15, 2017 See more In-depth