Living with dementia: How to get a better night’s sleep

Posted on: 8/12/2021

Lack of sleep and the problems that go with it are something that many of us struggle with on a regular basis, but for those living with dementia, lack of sleep can be even more disruptive.

We need sleep to allow our brains to rest and recover, just as much as our bodies. When you are living with dementia, sleep is even more important for your brain, so ensuring you get a good night’s sleep is vital.

Below, we’ve listed out some of the common causes of sleep problems, to help you identify what could be disrupting your sleep, and how to address them. 

Lacking exposure to natural light

During the day, try to expose yourself to natural light to help you feel more awake – this could be as simple as taking a gentle walk in the daylight or, if you struggle with your mobility, try to get out in the garden. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which can help improve mood, focus and alertness.

At night, try dimming the lights a few hours before bed. Darker lighting is thought to increase levels of melatonin, which is responsible for helping you sleep.

Taking certain medications

Some medications can have side effects linked with insomnia or are diuretics. Speak to your GP about medication side effects to see if there are other alternatives that will affect your sleep less.

Experiencing chronic pain

Speak to your GP about managing any chronic pain you are experiencing. You could also look at options to make sleeping more comfortable, such as specific pillows and mattresses.

Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol

Drinking caffeine after 2pm is a common cause of disruption to sleep. Consider switching to decaf after this time, so that you can still enjoy a cup of tea or coffee without the side effects.

Similarly, drinking alcohol can vastly decrease your quality of sleep as well as affecting your cognitive function. You might like to reduce your alcohol intake to improve the quality of your sleep.

Eating a lot of sugar

Sugar can also impact your sleep, particularly if you’ve consumed a lot of it later in the evening. Aside from causing your blood sugar levels to rise, it can cause overstimulation, which will affect your ability to fall asleep.

Try to avoid consuming sugar in the hours before you go to bed so that it doesn’t affect your sleep.

Sleeping in a light or noisy environment

Light and noise are common sleep disruptors, so try to create a soothing sleep environment for yourself. Consider blackout blinds, a radio to play soothing music or earplugs to block out noise, and anything else you feel you could benefit from.

Lacking physical or mental stimulation during the day

The more physically and mentally active we are during the day, the more tired we become. It’s often difficult to get to sleep when we don’t naturally feel tired, so try to do a few activities throughout the day to help you feel naturally tired. Click here to read our article that includes some great dementia-friendly activities. 

Taking long naps during the day

Whilst a nap during the day can be very tempting, especially if you are feeling tired because you are not sleeping well at night, long naps can actually do more harm than good. Napping for too long can affect how tired you feel at night, either leading to a very late night and disrupted sleep cycle or an inability to fall asleep at night.

If you need to nap, try to take a short power nap to revive your energy without disrupting your sleep cycle. Once you begin to get your sleep cycle back on track, the need to nap during the day should also reduce.

Getting your sleep back on track is so important, so we really hope this article helps you to identify and solve any problems that are disrupting your sleep.