Sleep and Dementia

Sleep and Dementia

October 1, 2023 | Health

Sleep and Dementia

With age, sleep becomes more fragile. As our mental and physical health changes, so can our sleep patterns. Though this is something that not all older adults will experience, for those with dementia, it can be more prevalent – but why?

It’s no secret that dementia is a complicated condition. How it affects memory, communication, and behavioral skills can make everyday tasks more challenging. Although we mostly hear about those effects, we don’t talk much about how they disrupt the natural body clock.

It’s common for caregivers, family, and friends to be concerned as they watch their loved one have trouble with their sleep schedule. Learning and understanding more about the relationship between sleep and dementia can help your loved one get a better night’s rest.

Common Symptoms


Have you ever heard of the term “sundowning?” People with dementia can have trouble telling the difference between night and day. Rather than feeling sleepy and relaxed as the sun begins to set, exhaustion takes over during the day. This process can be overwhelming for people with dementia. The transition can be confusing, as they may associate it with unpredictability for what’s to come. For caregivers, it’s important to be patient and understanding when navigating challenging moments as the day winds down.

Nighttime Wakeups.

Finding yourself awake in the middle of the night is common for people with dementia. Such an uneasy sleep pattern leads to sleep deprivation and feeling fatigued during the day. We’ve all experienced a few restless nights, but for loved ones with dementia, it’s more than that. This ongoing challenge diminishes energy levels and overall well-being, making each day feel like a battle to stay active.

Sleep-Related Disorders.

With age comes a greater possibility of developing a sleep disorder.
For those who have also been diagnosed with a sleep disorder in addition to dementia, it creates another hurdle to get over at night. Conditions such as sleep apnea – a disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep – are more common in people with dementia. This is due to cognitive shifts that affect how the brain functions.

Understanding The Causes

Brain Changes

The “suprachiasmatic nucleus” (SCN), which is like our body’s built-in clock, is the part of the brain that’s responsible for telling us when we feel tired. People with dementia can have damage to these SCN cells, making it hard to follow a regular sleep routine. This often leads to feeling tired during the day and more awake at night.


People with dementia are often given various medications to help manage symptoms. Some medications lower the melatonin levels in the body, which is the hormone that helps regulate sleep patterns and makes us feel tired.

Pain and Discomfort.

Nobody enjoys an uncomfortable night of sleep. Dementia can make people more susceptible to falls, accidents, and injuries that lead to greater pain and discomfort. When falling asleep is already a difficult task, experiencing extra discomfort at night can prevent a loved one from getting the proper rest that they need.

Emotional Distress.

In the early stages of dementia, it’s common for people to go through personality, behavioral, and emotional changes. It becomes tougher for loved ones to communicate how they feel. Changes in moods, such as increased stress and anxiety, can prolong the time it takes to fall asleep or cause wakeups in the middle of the night. As a caregiver, family member, or friend, it’s important to be aware of this challenge.

Having to cope with wavering sleep patterns alongside the daily struggles of dementia can put a strain on loved ones. To help, it’s important to understand why they are experiencing these troubles and be aware of changing symptoms. Finding the best sleep practices for those with dementia isn’t always easy but it can improve the quality of their life.

A healthy sleep routine can help people with dementia experience less confusion, be more coordinated, and have more energy. Consider reaching out to a healthcare provider who can offer guidance and provide recommendations that are best fit for your loved one’s needs.


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