Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, is a form of confusion that may occur with various types of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. It is characterized as confusion that begins late in the day and often carries into the night. The cause of sundowning is unknown, but factors that may contribute to it include:
- Low lighting and increased shadows
- An upset in circadian rhythm - our internal, biological clock - causing disturbed sleep patterns
- Confusion in regards to dreams and reality
Tips to Manage Sundowning
Plan activities during daylight hours. Increasing activity during daylight hours can help get the circadian rhythm back on track. Take a walk during the day, get outside in the sunlight, and avoid late afternoon naps.
Limit caffeine and sugar late in the day. Too much caffeine or sugar too late in the day can cause anxiety and insomnia, making sundowning worse.
Eat an early dinner. Eating too late in the evening can disrupt sleeping cycles. Offer a light snack before bed.
Provide comfortable, safe sleeping arrangements. Your loved one may be more comfortable in a different bedroom or bed where things feel more safe or familiar. Keep a night light on in the bedroom, bathroom, and anywhere else your loved one might wander in the night.
Seek professional advice. There may be medical or behavioral concerns that are affecting your loved one's sleep patterns and may be easily addressed by medical professionals.
Alzheimer's Association: Sleeplessness and Sundowning. http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_sleeplessness_and_sundowning.asp. Accessed 3/24/2011