Dementia: Supporting Sleep

Why is this Dementia course relevant for Residential Care Teams?

Around 4 in 10 older people have at least one thirty minute nap every day. Most people over the age of 80- nap for more than one hour each day. At night, some older people take more than half an hour to get to sleep. This is the case for about 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men. Older people also tend to sleep lightly. They wake up more often and spend less time in deep, refreshing sleep1.

Insufficient sleep can affect anyone, not just people living with dementia, however there are addition factors that contribute to the burden of sleep disturbances in dementia.

This course has been specially created to help identify practical approaches that will assist care staff in promoting a restful environment and supporting people with dementia to sleep. The course is aimed towards those in the Residential Care industry and is available for Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland members.

Deep dive into the course information

After completing this course, the learner will be able to:

  • Explain the effects dementia may have on a person’s ability to sleep
  • Outline strategies to support a person with dementia to sleep

Featured Subject Matter Expert

Colm Cunningham, Director of The Dementia Centre, HAMMONDCARE

Formerly the Deputy Director of UK Dementia Services Development Centre, Colm’s research focus and expertise are in pain management, environmental design that supports people with dementia, dementia and delirium, dementia and intellectual disabilities and night care

Colm is widely published and is also a Conjoint Associate Professor at the University of New South Wares in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, a visiting fellow in dementia design and practice at the University of Edinburgh School of Health in Social Science and a member of the Wicking Strategic Review Panel in Australia.

Sneak peek of course content

Circadian rhythm2 controls your timing of sleep and causes you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm. There are generally 4 stages of sleep recognised that together form a ninety minute cycle that repeats through the night. During these stages energy is restored and hormones are released for growth and development. The fourth stage known as the REM stage initially occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night. This is the time when energy is supplied to the brain and body and people dream, although often don’t remember the dreams they have.

The body’s need for sleep is also regulated by a sleep drive3 that reminds the body to sleep after a certain time and regulates sleep intensity. This sleep drive gets stronger every hour you are awake. Most people sleep between 7 and 9 hours each day. However, they may not get all their sleep at night, especially as a person gets older

Changes that occur in sleep patterns of the older person can be further compounded for people with dementia. In a person with dementia, sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances can occur as they are both regulated through the brain (and very often in areas affected by dementia). This makes sleep even more difficult to achieve in regular patterns. Excessive daytime sleepiness or excessive time spent sleeping during the day occurs in approx 50% of people with dementia.

Side effects of not getting enough sleep:

  • Reduced tendency to think positively
  • Bad moods, a decreased willingness to solve problems
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Intolerance and less empathy towards others
  • Poor impulse control

Commonly Observed effects of dementia on sleep:

  • A longer time for the person to settle from being fully awake to falling asleep
  • The person waking an increased number of times during the night
  • The person with dementia may experience nightmares, leading to waking up more confused and agitated than during the day, usually unable to explain why they now feel frightened, anxious or agitated
  • Early-morning awakenings