As Alzheimer's disease progresses, the sleep/wake cycle can become more disturbed. Causes of sleep disruption can be sleeping too much during the day, being overly tired from the day's activities, going to bed too early, pain, reactions to medications or possibly mild congestive failure.

The amount of sleep disruption varies with the stage of the disease. For instance, someone in the early stages of Alzheimer's may sleep more than usual or wake up more disoriented. As the disease progresses, he or she may begin to sleep more during the day and awaken frequently during the night. Those in later stage Alzheimer's rarely sleep for long periods but tend to doze irregularly throughout the day and night.

Regardless of the disease stage, lack of sleep can increase agitation and anxiety so it's important to create an environment conducive to sleeping. It is a good idea for the caregiver to maintain a regular schedule during the day for the person with Alzheimer's. Exercise should be included as well as some structured activities that are appropriate for the individual and the caregiver.

If sleep is continually disrupted at night, try increasing resting periods for the affected person during the day. A good rule of thumb is at least 30 minutes of rest in late morning, a 90-minute nap after lunch, and then about a 15-minute nap around 4 p.m. The caregiver should develop a bedtime ritual with the person, such as offering milk or ice cream at about 9 p.m. Giving a mild analgesic such as Tylenol also may help some sleep. Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids which can worsen confusion in the affected individual.

Sleep disturbances not only have an impact for the person with Alzheimer's disease but can affect the caregiver, too, as sleep deprivation can be the root causes of physical and/or mental health issues. The caregiver can enlist respite care services or ask for help from family and friends so he or she can sleep to get re-energized and to reduce stress and depression.

Should sleep disturbances become severe in the affected person, their physician should be contacted. Medications are typically prescribed depending on the pattern of sleep and wakefulness. Often it takes several tries before the right medication is found.


Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at advice@alzbr.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.