A lack of sleep can drastically affect our daily functioning, with physical and mental alertness becoming impaired throughout the day – even if you do not suffer from a mental illness, you could find the day challenging at best. Sundowners Syndrome, often experienced by those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia, is believed to be quite central to the underlying difficulties of sleeping.
How to recognise and deal with Sundowners Syndrome
This syndrome is characterised by a pattern of increased erratic behaviour of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients with the onset of late afternoon, early evening. Symptoms may include increased confusion, agitation, wandering, hallucinations and general disorientation. Here are some tips on how to handle symptoms of Sundowners Syndrome and make for a better sleep pattern for your loved one or patient…
- Set an internal clock - This entails exposure to some good old Vitamin-D. Try and get your loved one or patient to sit in the sun, outdoors in the morning, which will help with setting an internal clock.
- Discourage day-time napping - This will help to avoid over-sleeping and also regulate their sleep cycle.
- Encourage daily exercise - Expending excess energy throughout the day creates a natural feeling of being tired when it comes to ‘bed time’.
- Limit daily caffeine intake - This is particularly important in the late afternoon as the caffeine will still be present in their system and contribute to feelings of sleeplessness.
- Plan your errands and activities for during the day - Make sure to achieve all errands and tasks during the day so that there is an easy transition into the evening.
- Be intuitive about the onset of agitation – Learn to recognise the onset of symptoms of agitation towards the afternoon or evening. If you sense agitation, try a soothing hand massage or even just holding hands can help install a sense of ‘safety’.
- The power of distraction - Remember that calming music and soothing sounds, such as the ocean or the singing of birds, can help with distraction and keeping them centred and calm.
- Consider purchasing a bedside commode - Having to leave their beside during times of rest poses a risk of beginning a cycle of Sundowners Syndrome all over again – making it doubly as hard to get back to sleep.
- Create a safe environment - Take extra precaution to provide a safe space if their Sundowners Syndrome is at a particularly acute stage, even if this means having to stay awake or by their bedside while they rest.
A well and truly established routine has been proven to make life a lot easier for both Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who suffer from Sundowners Syndrome, as well as their carers and loved ones. While some of these may not work for everyone, it is up to the carer to experiment and find the best formula to help with the situation.