Help! My Loved One Won't Sleep

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The Dementia By Day Podcast is coming back this October for its fourth season! When the podcast returns, the blog goes into hibernation. While it will still be here and available for reading 24/7/365, it won't be newly updated for a few months, as the podcast will take its place. Interested in past seasons? Check out the podcast page and listen in for seasons 1 through 3!

I received a great question from a reader, and I think that a lot of people have struggled with the same thing: getting their loved ones with dementia on a normal sleep cycle. Here’s Eva’s question:

“My 96-year-old mother-in-law has
some form of dementia, and my sister-in-law is her daily caregiver who lives
with her. I am worried that neither one of them is getting a good sleep,
because my mother-in-law seems to go to sleep and wake up at all kinds of hours
in the day or night
. Sometimes she’s up all night and day. I would like to help
with some suggestions on how to get her on some kind of regular sleep pattern.
Have you any suggestions?”

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First thing’s first: what is your mother-in-law’s day like? If I were you, I would set up
a daily schedule
. For example, at my community, we have meals at 8 AM, 12 PM, and 5 PM every
day, on the dot. We make sure that all of our residents are up and dressed for
these meals. We also make sure our residents get some exercise and are exposed
to plenty of light in between meal times. There have been researchers that
suggest that exposure to light (even through a window or well-lit indoor room) during
the day really helps a person sleep at night.

What is her bedroom like? Make sure
that she’s using her bed ONLY for sleep and not just for watching TV or
lounging. You want that bed to be associated with sleep, not with general
relaxing. There should also be some natural light coming in, and the
temperature in the room needs to be comfortable. What color is the room? Is it
a neutral or warm, soothing tone? Or is it a bright, active color? Discourage
napping during the day (a little napping outside of the bedroom is okay) and
find some activities that she’d enjoy instead. My Pinterest has a bunch of
crafting ideas and another good site, MindStart, has puzzles and games.

It would also be great to set up a
bathing routine, maybe right before she wakes up or right before she goes to
sleep. Another routine you could look into is a “before bed” schedule. What
does she do before she goes to sleep?

I would also ask her doctor about
her medications.
There could be something that she’s taking, or the time of day
that she’s taking it, that could really affect her ability to stay awake or
asleep.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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