We all know how important sleep is for both physical and mental health — that's nothing new right? However, people living with dementia commonly experience altered sleep patterns. This is because dementia can affect the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, causing problems with all phases of sleep: falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up at an appropriate time.
Here are 6 tips to help manage your partner's altered sleep cycle:
- Establish a consistent sleep routine: The body thrives off of routine. Having a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to the body that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. You want to avoid an abrupt "well, it's time for bed now." Instead, there should be a gradual wind down to the evening. Also, please be mindful of the time they typically went to sleep prior to having dementia (this could be directly prior or when they were younger and of working age): were they a night owl? did they go to bed early? is this still their natural habit and preference? — adjust the routine accordingly.
- Keep the bedroom environment conducive to sleep: The best environment for sleep is typically a dark, cool, and quiet room. However, you also want to consider your partner's preferences. For example, are they afraid of the dark? Do they prefer ambient noise: like the sound of the TV, a fan, the sound of rain? A person who feels safe and comfortable in the room they are in will sleep better.
- Avoid stimulating activities before bed: Avoid activities that may stimulate the brain, such as watching TV, using the computer, or playing games on the phone, too close to the person's bedtime. Instead, try to engage in calming activities that can help the person relax and prepare for sleep: read a book together, listen to soft music, do light stretches together, say a prayer together, meditate together, or provide a hand or foot massage.
- Encourage physical activity during the day: Engaging in physical activity during the day can help improve a person's sleep quality at night. Physical activity could include walking, chair yoga, gardening, dancing, and housekeeping tasks around the house.
- Get some sunlight: Your partner should get at least 15 minutes of sunlight everyday. The best time for sunlight is first thing in the morning, (e.g., between 8am and 10am), but getting sunlight at anytime of the day is better than getting no sunlight at all. Getting adequate sunlight can help regulate a person's sleep-wake cycle.
- Consider medication, if necessary: In my opinion, this should not be first-line treatment for sleeping problems. Please, try the first five tips first and give your partner time to adjust. However, if your partner with dementia is experiencing severe sleep problems that are disrupting their daily routine or causing significant distress in the household, it may be necessary to consider medication under the guidance of a healthcare provider, even if it's just a melatonin supplement. Just be sure to use medication cautiously as they may have side effects and may not be appropriate for everyone. It may also be a good idea to get current medications reviewed by your partner's doctor as they could be a culprit of sleep challenges as well.