A good night's sleep is something that can become very rare for someone who has dementia. They grow restless, agitated and disoriented at the end of the day instead of getting tired, and this behavior may continue through the night. There are ways to make sure the person being cared for is awake during the day and asleep at night.
Experts believe this behavior, commonly called sundowning, is caused by a combination of factors, like exhaustion from the day’s events and changes in the person’s biological clock that confuse day and night.
- Increase daytime activities, particularly physical exercise. Discourage inactivity and napping during the day.
- Watch out for dietary culprits, like sugar, caffeine and some types of junk food. Eliminate or restrict these types of foods and beverages to early in the day. Plan smaller meals throughout the day, including a light meal, such as half a sandwich, before bedtime.
- Plan for the afternoon and evening hours to be quiet and calm; however, structured, quiet activity is important. Perhaps take a stroll outdoors, play a simple card game or listen to soothing music together.
- Turning on lights well before sunset and closing the curtains at dusk will minimize shadows and may help diminish confusion. At minimum, keep a nightlight in the person’s room, hallway and bathroom.
- Make sure the house is safe: block off stairs with gates, lock the kitchen door and/or put away dangerous items.
- As a last resort, consider talking to the doctor about medication to help the agitated person relax and sleep. Be aware that sleeping pills and tranquilizers may solve one problem and create another, such as sleeping at night but being more confused the next day.
- It’s essential that you, the caregiver, get enough sleep. If your loved one’s nighttime activity keeps you awake, consider asking a friend or relative, or hiring someone, to take a turn so that you can get a good night’s sleep. Catnaps during the day also might help.
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