The Best Guide on How to Get Someone with Dementia to Sleep at Night

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empty bed in the middle of the night

Are you a family caregiver wondering how to keep dementia patients in bed at night

Elderly adults with dementia can have difficulty sleeping and staying in bed at night. This increased sleeplessness can be a challenge for family caregivers. Fortunately, there are some ways to help a dementia patient who’s not sleeping at night.

In this article, we’re providing insight for caregivers into topics like:

  • Why dementia patients don’t sleep
  • How to get a dementia patient to sleep
  • How to calm dementia patients at night

Keep reading to understand dementia sleep issues and how overnight dementia care might be an excellent option for your loved one.

Why Do Dementia Patients Not Sleep?

Dementia experts aren’t exactly sure why dementia patients don’t sleep well at night. However, there are some potential causes for sleep problems in elderly adults with dementia.

A good practice is to monitor your loved one and keep a journal to help track different habits and changes. 

Here are some of the top causes of elderly adults with dementia not sleeping at night.

Brain Changes

The primary cause of sleepless nights for those with dementia seems to be the changes that take place in the brain. Leading experts believe that as dementia changes brain cells, it also affects a person’s circadian rhythms. When circadian rhythms get disrupted, the individual often confuses morning and evening. These changes lead dementia individuals to become tired during the day, take many naps, and then stay up during the night.


Sundowning is common in elderly adults with dementia. It begins around dusk and continues through the night, and it’s marked by increased: 

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation 

Because of these heightened emotions, individuals can have difficulty calming down, getting to sleep, and staying asleep.


Insomnia affects nearly 50% of elderly adults and has three different forms that include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Frequently waking up at night
  • Inability to fall asleep after waking up

Everyone will experience some sleepless nights, but those with dementia often suffer from insomnia night after night. A significant cause of insomnia is taking numerous naps throughout the day.

Sleep Apnea

Another cause of elderly adults with dementia not sleeping at night is breathing issues like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea affects 50% of adults who are diagnosed with dementia.

Regular pauses in someone’s breathing characterize sleep apnea. This momentary stop in breathing can cause the individual to wake up. Each time the individual falls asleep, they may experience sleep apnea and wake up again.

You may need to watch your loved one while they sleep and look for momentary pauses in breathing to tell if they suffer from sleep apnea.

Movements During Sleep

Common sleep problems in elderly adults with dementia are also related to restless leg syndrome (RLS) or other irregular movement issues. 

RLS is a condition marked by an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. Moving your legs temporarily relieves this urge, but the desire often returns moments later, requiring you to move your legs again. This constant urge and subsequent moving can plague individuals and keep them from sleeping well or at all.

Now that you have an idea of some of the major reasons for sleeplessness in dementia individuals, let’s look at how to get someone with dementia to sleep at night.

How to Keep Dementia Patients in Bed at Night

There isn’t one best way to get loved ones with dementia to sleep at night. But there are many things you can do to help them.

Below we’ve compiled a list of activities you can work into your caregiving plan.

1. Consistent Schedule

One of the best ways to help loved ones with dementia sleep at night is keeping them on a regular, consistent schedule. 

A consistent schedule includes:

  • Eating meals at the same time every day
  • Maintaining regular times for going to bed and getting up
  • Napping at the same time every day
  • Getting daily exercise

Consistency is the backbone of any successful dementia caregiving routine. 

2. Daily Exercise

Regardless of whether an elderly adult individual has dementia or not, regular exercise is essential. For those with dementia, it’s a way to stay healthy, enjoy the outdoors, and get their legs moving. Regularly moving throughout the day has also been shown to help decrease the severity of restless leg syndrome.

Daily exercise may simply include walking up and down the driveway a few times each morning. The activity doesn’t need to be overly strenuous. It’s also best to partake in exercise in the morning while your loved one has the most energy.

3. Monitor Naps

We mentioned earlier that a leading cause of insomnia is taking too many naps during the day. When someone takes numerous naps, they may not feel tired at night. 

Taking a nap each day is fine, but make sure that the nap:

  • Is short
  • Is in a recliner or chair, not their bed
  • Is taken around the same time each day

By following these napping guidelines, your loved one can take a nap but will still be tired once bedtime arrives.

4. Nighttime Routine  

Establishing a good nighttime routine can help calm your loved one down and prepare them for a night of sleep. A good routine may include:

  • Avoiding TV or screens
  • Avoiding stimulants (e.g., caffeinated coffee or tea)
  • Dimming the lights
  • Playing soothing music
  • Keeping the room dark and quiet

By creating a relaxing environment and routine, your loved one will be more ready for a night of rest.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can start easy, but there may come a time when you can’t do it on your own. When you’re unable to handle all your loved one’s care needs, there is help available.

Overnight Dementia Care

Overnight dementia care (or 24-hour care) is a service offered by in-home care companies. It addresses the full-time care needs that come with caring for a person with dementia.

Overnight in-home caregivers are specifically equipped and qualified to provide the hands-on care that your loved one with dementia needs. They can assist during the day with:

  • Bathing, dressing, and feeding
  • Transportation to and from appointments
  • Medication reminders
  • Daily companionship and exercise

Then, another caregiver will stay with your loved one during the nighttime hours to ensure safety and care. The nighttime caregiver can help your loved one get in and out of bed or stay awake with them if they can’t sleep.

Full-time dementia care is an excellent way for family caregivers to get respite from caregiving while still providing high-quality care for their loved one.

Professional Help with Dementia Sleep Issues

Dementia is a disease that commonly affects an elderly adult’s sleep cycle. Experts still don’t know precisely why dementia patients don’t sleep but believe it’s linked to brain alterations. Other dementia sleep issues like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can also make it difficult for loved ones with dementia to fall asleep or stay asleep at night.

If your loved one with dementia struggles with sleep and you’re wondering how to keep dementia patients in bed at night, you may want to try:

  • Keeping them on a consistent schedule
  • Ensuring they exercise regularly
  • Monitoring their daily naps
  • Creating a calming nighttime routine

There’s also overnight dementia care for family caregivers looking for professional, hands-on assistance.

Stowell Associates in Wisconsin is a premier in-home dementia care provider. We train and equip both our Care Managers and Caregivers to handle the demands of dementia care. With our 24-hour care service, your loved one will receive the best care during the day and nighttime hours. It will also provide you with peace of mind knowing your loved one is receiving the care they need. 

Contact us today to talk with a Care Advisor. They’ll help you better understand all the benefits of full-time dementia care.

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