Has your loved one been sleeping more since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? Know why Alzheimer’s patients sleep so much, the causes and how to help them cope.
If you have come across an Alzheimer’s patient whether it is a loved one or a friend you may notice that they tend to sleep a lot. Here we will discuss why Alzheimer’s patients sleep so much and how to help them.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s usually sleep a lot during the day and then find it very difficult to fall asleep at night. They tend to wander the house at night while people are asleep.
Most dementia diseases including Alzheimer’s tend to have a negative impact on the patient’s sleep/wake patterns. The longer the patient has suffered from the disease the sleepier they will be during the day. This will cause the patient to experience disrupted sleep at night which is not healthy for them.
Most patients with Alzheimer’s will experience a condition normally referred to as sundowning. It is a state where the patient gets agitated and exhibits behavior such as yelling, getting violent or pacing. This usually occurs when the sun goes down.
Most Alzheimer’s patients get institutionalized because of exhibiting incontinence and night wondering behavior. This is not necessarily because the family does not care but it’s because they find it difficult to care for someone who is unpredictable with their actions.
There are some patients who will experience sundowning throughout the day. The condition usually gets worse between 12:30 pm and 1:00 pm. In this case, a family member is able to handle such a patient as the wondering occurs during the day when everyone is awake and they are aware of what is going on.
Factors contributing to Alzheimer’s patients sleeping too much
The following are some of the factors that can lead to a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to sleep so much:
1. Common sleep changes
Many patients with this disease will experience changes in their sleep patterns, this according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It has not yet been proven why this occurs but it is suspected to occur from the impact of the Alzheimer’s on the brain.
Most sleep changes will occur in later stages of the disease but in some cases, they have been found to occur in the early stages of the disease. The common sleep changes experienced include:
- Difficulty sleeping
It is common for Alzheimer’s patients to wake up often and find difficulty in falling back asleep during the night. Studies done on brain waves of such patients have shown a decrease in both non-dreaming and dreaming stages of sleep.
It is common for those who cannot sleep to wonder the house or call out thus disrupting the sleep of their caregivers.
- Daytime napping and shifts in sleep/wake patterns
In this case, the patient tends to feel very drowsy during the day and then they cannot sleep through the night. Individuals tend to become very agitated during late afternoon or early evenings which is normally referred to as sundowning.
Most patients will spend at least 40% of the nighttime in bed awake and most of their day asleep and in extreme cases, the person may stay asleep all day and stay awake all night.
Because of this shift in sleep times, and the fact that they will spend a lot of time on the bed, ensure that they have a good and long lasting mattress and pillow on the bed.
1. Contributing medical factors
The changes in sleep patterns in Alzheimer’s patients can be caused by other underlying medical conditions. Examples of such conditions include:
Depression can sometimes cause patients to stay in bed for longer especially during the day. It also causes the individual to lose sleep especially at night which can cause him/her to feel tired and drowsy during the day.
- Restless leg syndrome
The tingling sensation brought about by this condition will make the patient want to move the legs thus cause them to wonder.
- Sleep apnea
This usually causes an abnormal breathing pattern when the patient is asleep. The patient tends to stop breathing many times during the night thus resulting in very poor sleep quality.
When dealing with Alzheimer’s only related sleep changes there are both drug and non-drug treatments that the patient can be placed on to help them deal with this issue. The non-drug approach is highly encouraged because different studies have shown that sleep medication does not improve sleep quality in adults in general.
Non-drug treatments for sleep changes in Alzheimer’s patients
These types of treatments are aimed at improving the sleep environment and sleep routine. You should always try non-drug coping methods first before decided to place the patient on sleep medication.
The following will help you create a conducive sleep environment and also promote rest for a person with Alzheimer’s:
- Make and maintain a regular schedule for meals, going to bed and waking up.
- Encourage the patient to have a regular exercise which should be done at least 4 hours before bed and never any later.
- Ensure that you treat any pain the patient might have so as to ensure that they sleep peacefully throughout the night.
- As the caregiver, make sure you take the patient out during the morning so as to receive morning sunlight exposure.
- Ensure the patient avoids taking any alcohol, nicotine or caffeine.
- In the event that the patient is taking a cholinesterase inhibitor, you should avoid giving him/her the medication right before bed.
- Ensure that the patient’s room has nightlights as well as other security objects.
- As the caregiver, you should make sure that the patient’s room temperature is comfortable enough to ensure that they get quality sleep during the night.
- Discourage the patient from watching television when they are experiencing periods of wakefulness.
- When the patient wakes up during the night, encourage him/her to stay in bed where they are likely to fall back to sleep.
Drug treatment for sleep changes in Alzheimer’s patients
There are cases in which non-drug treatments for sleep pattern changes can fail to work and thus you are forced to seek medical intervention. If your patient requires medication, it is recommended that the treatment begins with low dosages and go slow.
The risks that may occur in older patients who have cognitive impairment are many. They include confusion, increased risk of falling and fractures and a decline in their ability to take care of themselves.
It is important that the medication is discontinued for such patients once a regular sleep pattern has been established.
The meds that are prescribed are usually determined by the behaviors that accompany the sleep pattern changes. Using antipsychotic drugs should be considered with extreme caution as they can lead to stroke or even death.
It is clear to understand that changes in sleep patterns are not healthy for both Alzheimer’s patients and healthy people. It is the job of the caregiver to help the patient to establish a healthier sleep pattern by either using non-drug methods or sleeping medication.
It is not always the right choice to have an Alzheimer’s patient committed just because they have issues with sleep because from the information we have provided it is clear to see that this condition can be changed.
I hope we were able to answer the question of why Alzheimer’s patients sleep so much.