You are awoken at 2:00 am by the hallway light shining underneath your bedroom door and the sound of shuffling feet.
“Not again …”, you grumble. Your father is standing outside your bedroom door looking confused. “Dad? Where are you going?” you ask. Your father looks blankly, mutters something, and waves you off.
Dad has Sundowners Syndrome (aka Sundowning or Sundown Syndrome). He can’t tell the difference between day and night, and doesn’t understand, “Dad, it’s 2:00 a.m. and you should get some sleep!
What to do When Someone is Awake All Night With Sundowners Syndrome?
Here are 12 tactics to try tonight if your mom or dad is up all night, or up from dementia-related sundowners:
- Turn on some familiar, calming music: Soothing low-tempo music from your parent’s younger days can sometimes help, and online playlists are easy to find.
- Massage: A slow hand massage, foot massage, gentle head rub or back rub can soothe. Warm some lotion between your palms and then give a light-pressure massage.
- Aromatherapy: Do you have lavender oil? Mix this with a little lotion or body oil — do not use straight from the bottle — and apply to the person’s temple or wrist. Avoid putting on their fingers, as this can burn if they touch their eyes. Even a familiar perfume or cologne can help.
- Offer some Melatonin: If you have this “jet lag” remedy in your medicine cabinet, and it’s early in the night, give a moderate dose (0.3 to 1.0 mg). Melatonin is safe to use, however typical “drug store” dosages are very high — you can cut in half or a third to get under 1.0 mg. In an ideal situation, you want to offer melatonin 2 hours before bed time.
- Do NOT give antihistamines and nighttime medicines: Over the counter drugs likeBendaryl, Tylenol PM or NyQuil are known to accelerate cognitive decline, which will make sundowning worse. They will also make your parent woozy, and then they are more likely to fall.
- Cool the room: Lower the bedroom’s temperature (to below 70 degrees), which can help your parent return to sleep. A cooler room may allow you to add another blanket; the weight of a blanket can help people feel calm.
- Distract: Any distraction may be just what the person with Sundowners Syndrome needs to forget about wandering through the house and getting back to bed. Pets can make for marvelous distractions as they never judge or question a person for still being awake at 2:00 a.m.
- Dim bright lights: Dimmed or brighter lights can play havoc with a person’s internal body clock. When it begins to get dark inside or outside, this can be a signal for a person to prepare for going to bed. If the lights are turned up, the body typically responds into believing that it is still daytime.
- Stay calm: Although you’ve been woken up for the fifth time, it’s important to stay calm. If you are on-edge, the person with Sundowners Syndrome may mirror you and become on-edge. Avoid arguing … if your parent believes something is true – even when it’s not true, there will be no trying to convince them of anything different.
- Offer food or water: They could be legitimately hungry or thirsty. Offer some food or a glass of water. Perhaps a trip to the bathroom is required? Afterwards, steer Mom/Dad gently back to bed.
- Check for pain or discomfort: Ask your parent/spouse if they feel any pain and to point out the area where the pain exists. It’s also quite easy to look at their facial expressions and posture – both of which can indicate that a person is hurt.
- Be reassuring: Mom/Dad may need to hear that everything is okay. A hug can be very soothing. If they need to pace, don’t try to stop them. Instead, just stand by and be ready to intervene only if necessary.