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AARP Expert

Managing Sundowners Syndrome: #4 Improve Sleep

Sometimes those who are living with dementia or another health condition have, or develop, problems around sleeping. They may not be getting good quality sleep or not enough sleep, and lack of sleep can affect how our brains function. Good sleep is so crucial! If your loved ones have dementia, their brains need a lot of rest so they can do their best to function during the day. They may need an increasing amount of sleep as the disease progresses.

In addition, some people seem to get their days and nights mixed up – they are up all night and want to sleep all day, which can make caregiving so difficult! They may develop difficult behaviors in late afternoon or early evening, often called “Sundowners Syndrome” or “Sundowning”.  Dealing with sleep may help, so that’s my fourth tip:


Improve Sleep


There are many things that can inhibit good quality sleep. Here are some things to try which may help improve your loved ones’ sleep:


  • Adjust the sleep environment. Create a calming atmosphere. Try playing calming music in the evening and at bedtime, and/or nature sounds and try a sleep meditation you can play as your loved one goes to sleep. I did these things for my Dad (and also used an aromatherapy diffuser with lavender oil) and it really helped his sleep patterns and helped manage his Sundowners behaviors too.
  • De-clutter. Try to minimize physical, visual and auditory clutter in your loved one’s bedroom. Think about eliminating television in the bedroom. The bedroom should be used primarily (and exclusively if possible) for sleeping, dressing and undressing etc.
  • Exercise. Exercise earlier in the day may help them sleep better at night.
  • Keep it cool. At night, cool the room down. Experts often suggest a temperature around 65 degrees for optimal sleeping.
  • Darken the bedroom. Try blackout curtains or an eye mask, plus motion activated, dim night-lights for safe navigation if getting up to use the restroom.
  • Rule out sleep disorders or medical issues. Talk with your loved ones’ doctors about getting an evaluation for sleep disorders or any medical conditions that can disturb sleep - such as sleep apnea.
  • Evaluate medications and supplements. Talk with your loved ones’ pharmacists, doctors, nutritionist and other health professionals who can help you spot possible medication side effects that could be causing sleep problems. Observe what they eat and drink and determine if food or caffeine could be causing problems (including numerous trips to the bathroom at night). Ask if there are sleep medications or natural supplements like Vitamin D3 or melatonin that might help. If your loved ones have dementia be sure to consult with a doctor who has experience in how medications and supplements affect the brain. My Dad’s geriatric psychiatrist was fantastic and helped us make some changes for my Dad that really helped!


If you’re caring for loved ones at home, helping them sleep better with also help you sleep better – and as caregivers we are vulnerable too! Let us know in the comments below what has helped you and your loved ones sleep better?


Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert

Author, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving

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