Studies have shown that people with Sundowner’s Syndrome have a tendency to have sleep disturbances. This isn’t uncommon with elderly people who don’t suffer with any form of dementia, but for those with Sundowner’s, sleep problems only make the Sundowner’s symptoms more problematic. A Sundowner’s sufferer will no doubt exhibit symptoms every time they awaken.
Sleep disturbances in the elderly are often caused by the physical problems that go along with growing old and the resulting pain and discomfort, which awakens them several times during the night. Heart ailments, arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease shakes, Restless Leg Syndrome, depression, indigestion, constipation, and sleep apnea can all cause disturbed sleep. While breathing problems like sleep apnea occur in people of all ages, it’s extremely common in people over 70. Depression is also very common in the elderly, and some of these ailments may be addressed with medication that will diminish the sleep interruptions.
The hallucinations and agitation caused by Sundowner’s Syndrome can also cause sleep disturbances.
First and foremost, make sure the Sundowner’s patient avoids caffeine and sugar, especially in the hours before bedtime. It also helps to avoid any liquids for a couple of hours before bed. If your loved one takes any medications that make him or her sleepy during daytime hours, speak with your doctor about alternative medications.
Exercise a few hours before bed may also help to cause fatigue at the right time of night. Massage, soft and soothing music, reading in a soft voice, or even warm milk or sheets warmed in the microwave can help someone to relax and sleep. Of course, quiet is absolutely essential!
Sometimes, the elderly can begin to reverse their body’s sleep schedule until they sleep during the day and stay awake at night. This is, of course, extremely disruptive to caregivers. You can try to keep the lights bright during the day and dim them in the evening to get the body’s clock back on a proper schedule. This is the opposite of the instruction to keep lights on during the night to prevent Sundowner’s symptoms. When a reversal of sleep schedule occurs, however, promoting sleep at night becomes a priority, as your own health is also at stake.
The supplement melatonin is also sometimes used to help a person sleep at the proper time. Never give a person with dementia over-the-counter sleep medications, however, as some of these can exacerbate the Syndrome. See a doctor if the sleep issue becomes unmanageable, and you may also want to doublecheck the Physician’s Desk Reference to make sure any sleep medications are not a problem in terms of other ailments and medications.
Better sleep is an enigma for many people, but there are definitely strategies which can encourage it. Elderly people tend to live more sedentary lives and stay indoors more than when they were younger. This means they get less exercise and less sunlight, both of which are important for a good night’s sleep. A walk during the day in the sunlight can do a great deal to help with both of these issues.
If hunger keeps your loved one awake, encourage a light meal prior to sleep. However, the food you choose is very important. Sugar and caffeine work as stimulants, and alcohol also interferes with sleep. Heavy foods may also cause stomach discomfort during the night.