Biological clocks are specific proteins that are present in almost every tissue in our body. They control our body’s circadian rhythms (mental, physical and behavioral processes that follow a cycle). One crucially important cycle which circadian rhythms regulate is the sleep cycle. The body’s master clock (group of neurons located in the brain) produces melatonin (a hormone which makes you sleepy). Based on the feedback these neurons receive from the eyes, different amounts of melatonin are produced by the body. During the day, less melatonin is produced as compared to the night which helps the body function. A person dealing with dementia faces a loss of neurons in the brain, this can severely impact circadian rhythms and disturb the body’s sleep cycle.
There are multiple different behaviors which people dealing with dementia exhibit when it comes to sleep. Here are two common ones:
Disorientation: A person dealing with dementia may wake up numerous times throughout the night. As they are dealing with memory loss, they may feel disoriented when they wake up.
Naps During the Day: Since they are not able to get a good night’s rest, people dealing with dementia will feel the need to take multiple long naps during the day. This is in turn will keep them awake at night, disrupting their sleep cycle.
Caregivers are also affected when a person dealing with dementia’s sleep cycle is thrown off balance. They are not able to rest completely which can affect their health and the quality of care that they are able to provide. Here are a list of tips to help a person dealing with dementia get back on track with their sleep schedule:
Comfort: It’s important that the room where the individual dealing with dementia sleeps is kept at a comfortable temperature. A night light should be kept in the room in case they would like to go to the restroom if they wake up in the middle of the night. Make sure that there are no shadows in the room to avoid confusing the individual (to learn more read: Sundowning: Causes and Symptoms). Remove mirrors as well from the room to avoid. Try keeping photos of family members in the room as well to form a comforting environment.
Routine: Establish a routine so that your loved one gets in the habit of sleeping at the same time every night. Keep them engaged throughout the day using stimulating activities. Go for a walk with them, have a relative visit, or take a trip to the mall. This will get them tired and ready for bed. Make a habit of keeping them active during the daytime.
Calm Activities: Ninety minutes before your loved one goes to bed, have them listen to soothing music, drink milk, or even read a story to them. Have them calm down so that they will be ready to sleep.
Naps: Limit the number of naps your loved one takes throughout the day. The less they sleep during the daytime, the more they’ll sleep during the night.