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Alzheimer’s Insights: Dealing with Daylight Savings Time and Alzheimer’s Disease

Scott Finley

Starting Sunday, November 1, the days will begin to get noticeably shorter, courtesy of the end of Daylight Savings Time.    At two AM November 1, turn your clock back one hour to one AM.   Of course, nobody sits up to do it at that time; we turn our clocks back before we go to sleep on Saturday night, or we do it in a panic on Sunday morning!  The net result of this exercise will be that sunrise and sunset will be about 1 hour earlier on Nov 2, 2020 than the day before, and we gain an extra hour of sleep. However, if you have friends and family in Arizona and Hawaii, note that these states do not observe this clock manipulation.

Daylight Savings Time was first observed in the United States in 1918, and has been both praised and vilified ever since.  We won’t go into the myriad pros and cons here; suffice it to say that everyone has an opinion!   Instead, let’s look at the sleep/circadian rhythm and research about the relationship between sleep issues and dementia risk.

Sleep pattern changes – like those we experience during Daylight Savings Time – have been shown to affect different aspects of our physical and psychological health. But what do we know about what sleep does to our brain – specifically, our risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

New research is published regularly on sleep-related dementia risk factors, including:

  • Sleep apnea may cause Alzheimer’s-related masses to build up in your brain and increase your risk for memory problems.
  • Regular healthy sleep may help your brain clean itself of dementia-causing lesions.
  • More frequent use of sleep medications may be associated with higher risk of dementia.
  • Research suggests that poor sleep habits in mid- and late-life may increase the risk for developing dementia.

Sleep disturbances are common among people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, including changes in sleep schedule and restlessness/wandering during the night. It has been reported that up to 45% of people with dementia may have sleep problems. Many people with Alzheimer’s wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. Those who cannot sleep may wander, be unable to lie still, or yell or call out, disrupting the sleep of their caregivers. Experts estimate that in late stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals spend about 40% of their time in bed at night awake and a significant part of their daytime sleeping. This makes their lives more stressful and exhausting, but there are effective ways for caretakers to manage sleep issues.

  • Keep the home well lit in the evening. Adequate lighting may reduce the agitation that occurs when surroundings are dark or unfamiliar.
  • Make a comfortable and safe sleep environment. The person’s sleeping area should be at a comfortable temperature. Provide nightlights and other ways to keep the person safe, such as appropriate door and window locks. Door sensors and motion detectors can be used to alert family members when a person is wandering.
  • Maintain a schedule. As much as possible, encourage the person with dementia to adhere to a regular routine of meals, waking up and going to bed. This will allow for more restful sleep at night.
  • Avoid stimulants. Reduce or avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, which can all affect ability to sleep. Discourage watching television during periods of wakefulness at night, as it can be stimulating.
  • Plan more active days. A person who rests most of the day is likely to be awake at night. Discourage afternoon napping and plan more challenging activities such as doctor appointments, trips and bathing in the morning or early afternoon. Encourage regular daily exercise, but no later than four hours before bedtime.
  • Be mindful of your own mental and physical exhaustion. If you are feeling stressed by the late afternoon, the person may pick up on it and become agitated or confused. Try to get plenty of rest at night so you have more energy during the day.

If the person is awake and upset:
Approach him or her in a calm manner.

  • Find out if there is something he or she needs.
  • Gently remind him or her of the time.
  • Avoid arguing.
  • Offer reassurance that everything is all right.
  • Don’t use physical restraint. If the person needs to pace, allow this to continue under your supervision.

If you have questions, call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information.

The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Its mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900. 

Scott Finley is Media Relations Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association® in Texas.  He can be reached at scfinley@alz.org