Advice by Alicia: Managing Sleep Challenges in Dementia

Alicia Seaver is the Vice President of Memory Care Operations for EPOCH Senior Living and a Certified Memory Impairment Specialist. Every month, she addresses a specific issue related to memory and memory care. If you’re interested in hearing about a particular topic, please send a note to

Q: What can I do to help my loved one with dementia get better sleep – especially with the time change coming up?

A: Getting a good night’s sleep is important for all of us in order for us to feel and be our best. However, it’s quite common for individuals with dementia to have sleep challenges, which leads to caregivers having sleep challenges because they have to deal with those issues. Because poor sleep can exacerbate the symptoms of dementia, what started out as a small problem can quickly become a bigger issue. 

Since we’re almost at the end of daylight savings time (which will end at 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 3), caregivers of those with dementia will face an additional hurdle when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. It’s important to understand what sleep challenges seniors with dementia often have and how to handle them so that they – and you – can get the sleep you need. 

Common Sleep Issues

About 20 percent of people with dementia experience sundowning, which manifests as restlessness, anxiety, confusion and trouble sleeping – all of which make it hard when bedtime rolls around. Another common sleep issue for people with dementia is sleep apnea, which causes respiratory events throughout the night and keeps individuals from falling into the deep, restful sleep that our brains need to recharge properly. 

When events like daylight savings time occurs, circadian rhythms can get off-whack due to the changing amounts of daylight and hijacking of daily routines. People with dementia can also easily become frightened and confused by shadows and reduced lighting (both common occurrences during the winter months) as well as not getting enough physical or mental stimulation. There are also many medications and medical conditions that can cause difficulty sleeping. 

Tips for Managing Sleep Issues 

Luckily, there are many things caregivers can adopt or change about their loved one’s schedules, habits or lifestyle that will help overcome sleep issues and allow everyone to catch more ZZZs. The best part is that the things that are helpful for your loved one with dementia are also good for you, so by adopting these healthy habits, everyone in your household should feel more well-rested. 

Keep a consistent sleep schedule. 

Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day will help seniors with dementia fall asleep faster and have a better quality of sleep. Having a regular bedtime routine will help with confusion and make bedtime a whole lot easier for everyone involved. Stick to your schedule as much as possible, and try to avoid taking long naps during the day. 

Eat a healthy diet.

Eating the right types of foods will help you and your loved one feel better, be healthier and promote a better night’s sleep. It’s important to not eat huge meals before bedtime, and things like caffeine, alcohol and too much sugar should be avoided after 6 p.m. There are also some foods that can help your body produce more melatonin (which is a natural hormone that helps promote sleep) such as grapes, broccoli, cucumber, rolled oats, walnuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Consider adding a nightly glass of warm milk before bedtime to help your loved one fall and stay asleep. 

Get enough exercise.

Staying active helps work our muscles and tire us out so that falling asleep is a lot easier when bedtime rolls around. Make sure you and your loved one get regular exercise throughout the day, such as a light walk around the block and even some stretches and weightlifting if possible. Don’t forget to exercise one very important muscle – the mind! Providing your loved one with interesting, engaging and (appropriately) challenging activities will keep their minds stimulated, reduce boredom and make for a happier environment. 

Practice good sleep hygiene. 

Transform the bedroom into a haven for sleeping so your mind automatically thinks “bedtime” when you’re in the room. Keep the room dark and cool when it’s time to sleep, and make sure the bed is as comfortable as possible. Remove disruptions such as TVs, tablets and other non-sleep-related items so that it’s not tempting to use the room for other purposes. 

If your loved one is having sleep issues, it’s always important to check with their physician to rule out any physical ailments or medication issues that may be causing difficulty. However, by following these tips, you and your loved one will be able to better overcome sleep issues caused by dementia and more easily get a good night’s sleep. 

Enhancing Quality of Life

Bridges® by EPOCH communities have been developed from the ground up to anticipate, meet and exceed the needs of our residents and their families. Our team of remarkable people, the exceptional care and services we offer and the purposeful design of our buildings all combine to create the most rewarding, secure and nurturing lifestyle possible for our residents.

We understand the concern families feel about ensuring quality of life for loved ones. That’s why, at Bridges® by EPOCH, we offer a wellness-centered lifestyle that focuses on reinforcing individual strength so residents enjoy heightened confidence and self-esteem. Ultimately, we provide everything residents need to thrive and rediscover a life with purpose.

Inspiration for Success

At our Bridges® by EPOCH communities, we work closely with families to gain necessary insight and deeper understanding into the lives of our residents upon admission. With this initial information, along with what our exceptional team members learn about our residents each and every day, we are best prepared to provide highly individualized programming for our residents.