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Sleep Disorders in Dementia

By Karl Doghramji, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Medicine and Medical Director, Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center, Thomas Jefferson University

In people with dementia, such as Alzheimer disease, sleep patterns are often abnormal. As dementia progresses, the time spent in light sleep increases, so people are easily awakened.

People with dementia may have disorders that contribute to sleep problems. Disorders such as arthritis, dehydration, and infections may cause pain or discomfort, interfering with sleep. Use of certain drugs or interactions between drugs may also interfere with sleep.


  • Treatment of the underlying disorder

  • General measures

Treatment of the dementia or any underlying disorder causing pain or discomfort may help improve sleep.

The following general measures may help:

  • Not taking or taking fewer naps during the day because naps may make sleeping at night more difficult

  • Walking outside in the sunshine

  • Exercising

  • Keeping the temperature in the bedroom comfortable

  • Not consuming beverages or foods that contain caffeine during the evening

Drugs to aid sleep (sedatives) cause confusion, falls, and agitation in people with dementia and are not used.