How to help my father who has Alzheimer's sleep through the night?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father has Alzheimer for about 8 years now. For the past month or so he wakes up several times during the night. Has a snack, a cocktail, even shaves and gets dressed. My brother and his wife are the main care givers. They keep a monitor on at all times to be sure he is all right. Any suggestions for helping him to sleep thru the night/ Medication? Also, the next day he wants to sleep until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. When woke.n up he is really cranky

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

As Alzheimer's progresses, your father's brain may be unearthing earlier recollections of when he'd have a cocktail and shave before going out for the evening. People in the middle stages of Alzheimer's often have difficulty telling the difference between night and day. Your father's internal clock has likely shifted. Your night has become his day.

Not knowing his past, there could be any number of reasons why your father with Alzheimer's awakes to have a snack and a cocktail.

  • He thinks he's taken a nap after coming home from work and is enjoying a snack and cocktail before dinner.

  • Night is his day given that he spent a part of his early life working nights.

  • He is shaving in order to get ready for work (Although, I question the cocktail!)

Until you do the following, any tip offered will only be guesswork. Since your father seems cognizant enough to do these things for himself, your brother and his wife could alternate nights and ask your father a series of questions to learn what he thinks he's doing at this time. (They are already awake listening to the monitor; they may as well try to learn more in order to better help him.)

Start by asking questions like the ones below. Use a gentle conversational tone. Speak slowly and inquire with genuine curiosity. Emphasize the words in capital letters. You don't want your father to feel he's being interrogated. Who knows, your father may enjoy the company and conversation while, your brother and sister get a better idea of what's going on.

*"Dad, what TIME is it?"

*"May I JOIN you?"

*"Are you getting ready for WORK?"

*"Are you RESTING after a hard day at work?"

*"HOW WAS YOUR DAY at work?"

*"Are you GETTING READY TO GO OUT (with Mom)?"

Sleep problems for Alzheimer's patients are common. The following THREE TIPS are a starting point.

  1. More physical activity during the day will tire your father helping him to sleep better through the night.

  2. Slowly shift his clock, so he has his snack and cocktail earlier. (Although initially relaxing, alcohol has a delayed effect of keeping people awake at night.)

  3. Remind him to shave in the evening before he goes to bed. (Here again, he may forget and start shaving again.)

The answers to these and other questions will help you to better inform your father's doctor about the reasons why he gets up at night. Your doctor may recommend sleeping pills or relaxing medication to help your father sleep through the night. I recommend asking your father about melatonin. Contrary to popular opinion, melatonin is not a sleep aid. It actually acts as a supplement to replace the chemical that our bodies produce while we're in deep (REM) sleep. When people get up at night, they don't experience enough periods of deep sleep. Supplemental melatonin helps people function during the day by replacing what is lost during the night. (Print this article and take this with you to your doctor.)

Bottom Line: As Alzheimer's disease progresses, he will move out of this stage and into another.

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