Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Helping Seniors Sleep Better and Cope With Rest-Stealing Bad Dreams

Helping Seniors Sleep Better and Cope With Rest-Stealing Bad Dreams

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“To sleep, perchance to dream” is a Shakespeare quote of which I remind myself when I am really tired.

The unfortunate truth is, when I am most tired, the dreams become weird imaginings that tend to wake me from a sound sleep, putting me right back in a sleep deprived state.

Does that happen to you?

A dream is an experience our minds have of images, sounds and sensations. A beautiful dream of warm breezes, sandy beaches and the scent of fragrant flowers rarely seem to come to me when I am really tired.

And when are family caregivers not really tired?

Are Dreams the Culprit?

I had a weird dream the other night that left me sleepless. In the light of day it made me think of my senior loved one with dementia.

Does your senior wake in the middle of the night seemingly lost, shaken, scared and hard to calm? Are they searching for something, somewhere or someone? Do they urgently say they have someplace to be, a train to catch, a suitcase to pack?

I wonder if they didn’t have a dream of some sort when they wake in a frenzy. I hesitate to say nightmare since it isn’t the scary movie, gruesome thriller that we think of when we say nightmares.

Often our dreams are less about ghosts and goblins and more about what we feel could really happen like getting lost, missing an appointment or not being able to find a familiar loved one.

Coping with Bad Dreams

If your senior awakens in the night from a dream (or nightmare), they may be confused, disoriented and aggressive. Our first reaction should be comfort for them. Trying to orient them to a safe place in their mind so that they can settle back to sleep and get the rest they need should be the primary goal.

This isn’t the time to question them about what they dreamed or scold them for waking up the household. They likely will not remember their dream state or be able to express their fears.

Some experts believe that when we relive our dreams the next day by expressing them can lead to negative effects on our mood. It makes sense that a bad experience can make us feel bad.

Because we want our seniors to have good, happy days, it would be better to not push them to talk about the dreams they may be having.

These two quotes help to sum it up.

“Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” – Inception

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Helping Seniors Sleep Better

Many seniors seem to have disturbed sleep as they age but sleep is just as important for older people as it is for younger people.

Seniors may not be sleeping through the night, they may not sleep deeply enough while they are asleep for it to be restorative and they may not sleep for long enough periods of times. Being sleep deprived can increase cognition problems.

Here are some tips for caregivers to help their seniors get a better night sleep.

  • Control nap times during the day so that they are tired when they go to bed.
  • Limit caffeine-containing beverages taken after noontime and be sure they don’t drink too much of any liquid close to their bedtime. Having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night can often lead to the inability to fall back to sleep.
  • Check their medication list with the doctor or pharmacist to see if there may be one drug or an interaction between drugs that is causing them to have sleep trouble.
  • Perhaps your senior has restless leg syndrome, which can interrupt their sleep patterns.
  • Depression can also lead to poor sleeping habits and even insomnia.
  • Set up a sleep routine, perhaps including a warm bath or quiet time, to allow your senior to relax for sleep.
  • Keep your senior physically active throughout the day to tire them out.
  • Be sure their sleep environment is conducive for sleep. This includes providing a comfortable bed and pillow, control of light in their room especially in early morning, adding pleasing scents like lavender and maintaining a proper room temperature.
  • Melatonin may help with sleep but caution with sleeping aids due to increased risks of falls in elders.

Dreams can be powerful for us and even more so for our senior loved ones. Those who have dementia may have trouble distinguishing between a dream and reality.

Dreams can affect our senior’s mood and therefore have a negative influence on our day together. Taking some steps to ease their sleep will make us all live happier.

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