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How to Help Dementia Patients Develop a Bedtime Routine

How to Help Dementia Patients Develop a Bedtime Routine

Dementia is a general term used to describe a number of diseases and disorders that lead to a reduction in cognitive functions. Millions of people in the United States suffer from it. But they’re not the only ones who are affected by this progressive group of diseases, so do their caregivers.

As dementia progresses, sleep disturbances increase for both the person with dementia and those caring for them. While some turn to medical treatments for help, a bedtime routine is a non-er sleep. What the routine includes is up to each individual, but there are certain behaviors that can help.

Reduce Screen Time

Studies have shown that screen time, whether that be television, laptop, or phone, can cause sleep disturbances. A brightly lit screen stimulates the brain and makes it think it’s time to be awake. It’s not just television. There’s evidence that light from ereaders and other small screens suppress melatonin, one of the hormones that helps the body sleep. Cutting down on screen time at least an hour before bed can help prepare the body for better rest.

Relaxing or Comfort Behaviors

There are many activities that could fit into this category. Two that work for many people are taking a warm bath or drinking herbal tea (make sure it’s not caffeinated). There’s some evidence that raising the body temperature triggers the body to start the cool down process which in turn makes the person feel drowsy.

Anything that relaxes the body and calms the mind can contribute to good rest. When done consistently, a comfort behavior can help trigger the brain that it’s time for sleep. Other comfort behaviors that might help include:

  • changing into comfortable pajamas or robe 
  • reading a book or listening to an audiobook
  • prayer or meditation

Consistent Bedtime

Consistency is key to all aspects of a bedtime routine but none more so than time itself. Going to bed at the same time every night helps set the body’s circadian rhythm. The body releases certain hormones like melatonin to help the brain start shutting down at the right time. When a consistent time is observed, the body begins to prepare for bed in advance.

Good Sleep Hygiene

There are other sleep hygiene behaviors that may not be part of the routine but can help to support it. A clean, supportive mattress, for example, can help the body relax whereas on one with bumps and divots might cause physical discomfort by morning.

The conditions of the room slept in can make a big difference too. A room that’s kept at cool temperatures, somewhere between 65-72 degrees, prevents overheating. Lighting should be dim or completely dark to help keep the body’s sleep cycle in check.

Eat for Bedtime Success

Food can play an integral role in getting a good seven to eight hours of sleep. Heavy, fatty meals can be hard to digest and can cause discomfort that makes sleep difficult. For those prone to heartburn, acidic foods like lemons and tomato products should be avoided. However, hunger can cause sleep problems just as much as overeating can. A light snack that includes protein and complex carbohydrates work well to tide a hunger over until morning.

Developing a successful routine may take some trial and error, but in the end, it can reduce stress and help everyone get the sleep they need.

This article was written in conjunction with the Tuck Sleep Foundation, a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness.

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