Sleep Disturbances

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Caregiver Training Part XII: Sleep Disturbances




My mother sleeps all day and keeps everyone awake at night. In the morning, we tell her to get up and do something, but all she wants to do is sleep. When nighttime comes, she is awake and keeps the whole house up. How are we supposed to get any rest?



Common response: Son enters mother’s bedroom at 2 am while she is fumbling with her clothes in her closet. A verbal disagreement ensues shortly, leaving both son and mother upset and frustrated.

Expert explanation: Sleep disturbance is a common problem in dementia. Some patients may mistake daytime for the night time, while some sleep excessively in the morning and stay awake at night. They may wake up in the middle of the night confused and disoriented. This presents safety issues such as falling, wandering and other unsupervised behaviors. For some patients, sleep disturbance is caused by or made worse by excessive napping, lack of daytime activities, and not enough exposure to sunlight. Medication effects, caffeine, alcohol and pain can disrupt sleep/wake cycles. In any event, if your loved one is awake at night, stay calm and be patient, keeping in mind that how you respond to the situation greatly affects the outcome for your loved one.

Recommended response: Son comes into the room, asks his mother if she needs help. She states she is busy getting ready for work and her son should be sleeping since he has school in the morning. Son gently notifies her it’s not time for work or school to start just yet. Son suggests a glass of warm milk. They head to the kitchen for a glass of milk and then go back to sleep.

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The project described was supported by Grant Number 1C1CMS330982 from the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or any of its agencies. This project was funded, in part, by the Archstone Foundation.