Sleep is an important function for any person. The sleep cycle contains three main stages- light sleep, deep sleep, which helps aid in muscle repair and boosts the immune system, and REM sleep, which helps consolidate memory and improve and replenish critical brain chemicals.
People who sleep for short periods of time or are restless sleepers often only reach the light sleep stage, which leaves them more vulnerable to a number of different health risks.
This is especially problematic for older people, who are already more prone to injury and illness than younger generations are. Ensuring a good night's sleep for the elderly is important for their well-being, but there are problems that can complicate that matter. People living with Alzheimer's Disease in particular are more susceptible to disruptive sleep patterns, which means that they are missing out on much-needed brain repairs.
Sleep changes with Alzheimer's
When a person starts to develop Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, it disrupts the functions of his brain. This leads to the memory loss and confusion, but it can also cause a change in sleeping patterns.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, people with Alzheimer's are more likely to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night than they did before the disease began to set in, though doctors have yet to pinpoint exactly why this happens. Because the patients are not getting enough sleep, they are unable to complete the necessary sleep cycles to achieve the right quality of sleep. The REM stage, for example, the state during which people dream, may be disrupted, which can lead to grogginess and fatigue upon waking.
Because nighttime sleep is disrupted, patients may subsequently nap frequently during the day. This will likely just be light sleep, however, which does not have the same cognitive and immune-boosting benefits that deeper sleep stages provide.
As a result of these new sleep patterns, people living with Alzheimer's may end up more irritable, confused and lethargic, conditions already associated with the disease that then become exacerbated by exhaustion.
Correcting disrupted sleep patterns
The effects of restless sleep on people with Alzheimer's can make their already difficult situation more challenging. Fortunately, there are steps that caregivers can take to help make restful sleep come a little easier for their loved ones:
- Stick to a routine. The first step to correcting a disrupted sleep cycle is to set up a timed routine and stick to it. Keep to a tight schedule for dinner, bedtime and waking up.
- Control environmental factors. Keep the bedroom cool but not cold at night- the body's temperature fluctuates during sleep and the changes could cause a person to wake up if he becomes uncomfortable. Sleeping in a cool room with blankets helps to keep the body temperature balanced. Make sure that the bed is comfortable as well and that the room isn't cluttered, which can cause distractions that make falling asleep more difficult.
- Set up daytime exercises. Exercising too close to bedtime can be disruptive, but light exercises or long walks during the day can help make a person more rested at night.
- Avoid disruptive chemicals, like caffeine, alcohol or nicotine.
- Only use the bed for sleeping. Reading or watching TV should not be done from bed. If he wakes up in the middle of the night, he should get up for a bit and not just lie awake in the bed.
It may take some time for the positive effects of these routines to take place, but with some patience and practice, caregivers can help their loved ones rest more soundly.