How to Manage Sleep Problems Caused by Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease exacerbates many of the issues that plague us as we age, the most notable, of course, being memory. Lesser known is the fact that Alzheimer’s often wreaks havoc with sleep as well.

As we age, our ever-mysterious sleep patterns tend to change. For those with Alzheimer’s disease, these changes are more drastic. While researchers have not yet found a conclusive reason why Alzheimer’s affects sleep, the disease does cause damage to the brain, and it is believed that this damage impacts the body’s circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle.

Sleep Symptoms

Alzheimer’s-related issues with sleep take many different forms:

Excessive Sleep During the Day

Many Alzheimer’s sufferers find themselves more fatigued during the day, sleeping or napping much more frequently. As the disease progresses, those with Alzheimer’s typically aren’t able to sleep for long periods, leading to on-and-off dozing.

Difficulty Sleeping at Night

On the other side of the clock, sleeping at night becomes more difficult. Some folks experience difficulty falling asleep, while others have trouble staying asleep. Once again, as the disease progresses, sleep comes in shorter periods of dozing, rather than extended periods of sleep.


Sundowning seems to be triggered by fading light in the late afternoon and early evening, and refers to the increased confusion and agitation Alzheimer’s sufferers experience during this time. Symptoms often get worse during the night, with increased wandering and disorientation, and abate by the morning.

Managing Sleep Problems

While it’s not possible to completely alleviate these issues, there are steps that can be taken to lessen their severity and impact:

Treat Other Causes

Alzheimer’s is not the only ailment that impacts sleep. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and other conditions also make it difficult to achieve restful sleep and maintain a healthy sleep/wake cycle. Treating these ailments will help to improve sleep quality.

Maintain a Set Schedule or Routine

With Alzheimer’s, a person’s internal clock is, simply put, out of whack. It’s best to maintain a stable external clock to the fullest extent possible. That means waking up, going to sleep, and eating at the same times each day.

Minimize Sleep During the Day

Naps during the day should be avoided if at all possible. At the very least, they should be kept short and relegated to an earlier part of the day.

Avoid Food and Drink that Interfere with Sleep

Stimulants and depressants like alcohol, coffee, and nicotine all interfere with sleep. Cutting them out will help to cut down on the number of things acting on the sleep/wake cycle. Large late-night meals should also be avoided.

Pursue Exercise and Activities

Exercise has a stabilizing effect on the body, particularly as it relates to sleep. Making physical activity a regular part of the day’s routine – along with creative activities such as art and music – can help promote longer, more restful sleep during the evening.

Create a Comfortable Environment for Sleep

Temperature plays an important role in comfort, especially when it comes to where and how we sleep. Maintaining the right temperature and lighting will help create an environment that promotes sleep.


If possible, it’s best to manage sleep issues for those with Alzheimer’s disease without the help of medication. This is because the medications that promote sleep often increase confusion and likelihood of falling. Be sure to consult a doctor before pursuing treatment through medication.

Memory Care Facility

A dependable schedule and the right environment play pivotal roles in combating the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on sleep. A memory care facility can provide these, along with other important aspects of memory care. Learn more about Lexington Square and the top-of-the-line Alzheimer’s care we provide in Lombard, IL.

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