Understanding and Treating Sleep Disorders Related to Alzheimer's Disease

Last updated: September 8th, 2023

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a common form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and speech. AD gets worse over time, with some people eventually reaching the point where they cannot recognize loved ones or take care of themselves.

Alzheimer's Disease and Sleep

Alzheimer's disease and sleep problems are said to be bidirectional, meaning that poor sleep can worsen the effects of AD, as well as make it more likely for someone with AD to need to move into a care facility, increasing the burden on the caregiver. When it comes to sleep problems and Alzheimer's disease, some of the sleep disruptions seen include fragmented sleep with frequent awakening, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and circadian rhythm problems. Poor sleep can also contribute to additional symptoms, such as verbal and physical aggression, confusion, and restlessness.

Treatment for Sleep Disorder Related to Alzheimer's Disease

The good news is that treatments are available to address sleep problems related to Alzheimer's disease. Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) can be used to provide information on sleep hygiene techniques. Movement therapies such as tai chi or yoga can help to promote better sleep. In some cases, medications such as melatonin or low doses of certain medications like clonazepam can be used to help those with AD sleep longer or reduce nighttime awakenings. Finally, behavioral treatments can be used to reduce nighttime behaviors.

Talking to Your Doctor About Sleep Changes

If you or someone you know has Alzheimer’s, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor or sleep specialist about treatment options that can improve sleep. Everything from cognitive therapy to movement therapies to medications can be used to help address sleep problems caused by Alzheimer’s disease, helping to improve the quality of life of both the person with AD and their loved ones.

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