People with dementia can wander at night for lots of different reasons. One reason may be that they have extra energy that wasn’t used up during the day. Having a daily routine that includes physical activity may reduce night wandering.

Make sure the activities are suitable for the person with dementia so they don’t become frustrated or confused. 

Know the person you are caring for

  • What did the person like doing before the onset of dementia?
  • Did they enjoy walking, doing the gardening or playing bowls?
  • It’s important to know their lifestyle before dementia so you can encourage them to do activities that they are familiar with and enjoy.

Activities that are meaningful have the added benefit of helping people stay connected to who they are. For example, if someone always used to do the family’s laundry and hang it out on the line to dry, see if they would like to do that again. The activity of hanging out the washing is good exercise and may give the person a sense of satisfaction and meaning.

Get Some Light to Get Some Sleep

Encouraging your loved one with dementia to get some light during the day will be important in helping them to sleep better at night. Being outside in the sunshine or sitting by a sunny window or in a well-lit room helps us feel more awake for longer during the day. This improves our night time sleep.

But how?
We all have a body clock in our brain. It takes in information around us, particularly light levels, which regulate our sleep. Our body clock controls our sleep by making us feel sleepy at night and awake during the day.
As we age, we become less sensitive to light, which affects our sleep patterns. Older adults have more light sleep and less deep sleep during the night, making it more likely they will wake up during the night. Dementia can further upset a person’s sleep due to its effect on the brain, making it difficult to have good sleeping patterns. But by encouraging your loved one to get some light, by sitting beside a sunny window or spending some time outdoors, you can help them sleep better at night.
For more information, see the Sleep Health Foundation’s Factsheets.


 

Maintaining Habits and Routines

A healthy daily routine will help with sleeping well at night. Try to keep routines familiar.

  • If your loved one has always gone to bed late and woken up late, this might be the most natural rhythm for them.
  • If they ate their main meal at lunch before developing dementia, this may be how they still want to eat.
  • If they used to listen to the radio to get them back to sleep in the past, try the same technique.  

Keeping the same routines is important as this generally reduces stress. However, it’s important to keep life interesting for the person living with dementia by varying daily activities, exercise and meals.

Ultimately, you want to support the person with dementia to keep living the life they’ve always lived for as long as possible.  

Keep Naps Short and Sweet

If your loved one doesn’t sleep well at night, they may need to take a nap during the day. While napping can help you feel more awake, it can also disrupt nighttime sleep. If they do take a nap, keep it short (about 15-20 minutes) and in the early afternoon. While they are napping, consider catching up on some sleep yourself.

Living a healthy well rounded life will help both carers and people with dementia sleep well at night

National Dementia Helpline 24 hour phone support: 1800 699 799

Carers who are having difficulty can call a 24 hour support line and receive help over the phone. Professionals who are experienced in dementia care are available to provide advice on how to best look after you and the person you are caring for.  

Experiment and Stay Flexible  

Like everyone, people with dementia have good days and bad days. Some days our ability to do things, remember people and communicate our needs is better than on other days. On difficult days, carers and loved ones need to be flexible and try different things to see what is going to work. Establish a routine, but remember that sometimes you might need to change it.

Keeping meals, activities and naps at the same time everyday will help reduce confusion and help with sleep at night.

Staying Social

Having enjoyable social contact with others is important for people with dementia.

  • Being with people creates emotional connection and mental stimulation.
  • Being social can help reduce feelings of stress and boredom.
  • Feeling stressed or bored can make it difficult to get to sleep and may contribute to night time wandering.
  • Social activities that don’t overstimulate or overwhelm the person with dementia are the best.

Daily physical activity is important for both carers and people living with dementia. It reduces stress, enhances sleep and improves the quality of your life.

Daytime Tips for Better Sleep 

Activity, Sleep and Dementia 

If you stay physically active during the day, you are more likely to sleep well at night. Everyone needs physical activity to keep their body healthy. Physical activity relieves stress and helps the body perform its functions. When we feel tired through doing activities, we are more likely to relax physically and mentally at night. This helps you get to sleep and stay asleep. Exercise also helps to keep you in a good mood and has been show to help with depression. 15 minutes exercise twice a day is a good start.

 

Dementia Support Organisations

Healthcare teams that can provide

you with support:

Alzheimer’s Australia
http://www.fightdementia.org.au
Phone: 1800 100 500

(National Dementia Helpline- 24hrs)
The Dementia Centre
http://www.dementiacentre.com.au
Phone: 1300 426 666

Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service
http://www.dbmas.org.au
Phone: 1800 699 799

(24 hour phone support)

My Aged Care

Australian Government: Department of Social Services
http://www.myagedcare.gov.au 
Phone: 1800 200 422
Department of Veteran Affairs
http://www.dva.gov.au

Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres
http://www9.health.gov.au
Phone: 1800 059 059

Carers NSW
http://www.carersnsw.org.au
Phone: 1800 242 636

Commonwealth Carer Resource Centres
http://ccdn.com.au
1800 242 636