On this lovely Valentine’s evening, Susan, Rena and Louise spoke about Sleep – in general, as we age, and in relation to dementia.

In general, we tend to need 30 minutes less sleep for every decade we age, so it is natural to find ourselves sleeping a little less as we get older. That said, sleep difficulties are encountered by many of us at different times of our lives. Typically people encounter two different sleep-related issues:

  • Problems falling asleep
  • Waking during the night

In general, sleeping tablets are not the answer, particularly for someone with a diagnosis of dementia, as these can increase confusion and can mean that the person taking the tablets are drowsy the next day and not operating at full speed.

The team talked through a number of different suggestions to improve sleep:

  • Help keep your body in tune with it natural biorhythms:
    • Increase the amount of physical activity during the day.
    • Try to get some fresh air during the day.
    • Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed as both are stimulants.
    • Sometimes a light snack can help relax you into sleep. As the body’s digestive system starts to work, blood is drawn away from other organs and these slow down a little and you can feel drowsy.
  • Get your medication reviewed:
    • On the one hand, some medications have side effects which an disrupt sleep.
    • On the other hand, medication may help certain sleep problems; for example, having to go to the bathroom multiple times a night.
  • Make sure the environment is suitable for sleeping:
    • The room should not be too hot or too cold.
    • It is important to have a mattress and pillow(s) that suits you.
    • Try to keep the room dark. Sometimes people need to have a night light so that they can see if they wake during the night. This can work really well for some people. If it does not work for you or for your loved one (e.g. can cast shadows and the light can make falling asleep difficult), consider a motion sensor light. Thanks Mary for pointing us towards very simple and easy to use sensor lights available in IKEA!
  • Try to get yourself into the frame of mind for sleeping:
    • Minimise distractions Bed is not the place for mobile phones, tablets, tvs etc. Anything that wakes the brain back up again!
    • A short period of meditation or deep breathing can be helpful before trying to fall asleep. Try to free your mind from the stresses of the day and give yourself a better chance of nodding off.
    • If a To DO list keeps running around in your head, consider keeping a notebook and pen beside the bed and jot down whatever it is you want to remember. It gives you brain permission to stop thinking about it as you know you won’t forget it in the morning … it will be there in black and white in the notebook.

Finally, remember the PINCH ME mnemonic we spoke about in previous talks – a delirium can cause someone to sleep less and in some cases to sleep excessively. If a sudden change in sleep patterns are noticed, run through the basic delirium checks. Click here for a reminder of how this works.

Some helpful handouts were circulated on the night. Links to these are included below:

  • Good Sleep Hygiene
  • Rules for Good Sleep
  • Dementia and Sleep
  • Sleep Disturbance in Dementia: Strategies for Patient Improvement and Reduction of Caregiver Burden – a presentation from NSU-COM Eighth Annual Interprofessional Geriatrics Training Institute