Is Melatonin Safe for Elderly with Dementia?

is melatonin safe for elderly with dementia

When a person with dementia has sleep issues, we, as caregivers, wondered many times- is melatonin safe for elderly with dementia?

We went on a long journey of studying, reviewing and even testing melatonin ourselves.

Is Melatonin Safe For Patients With Dementia?

The supplements are generally safe and can be used to treat insomnia in people who have trouble getting quality sleep.

is melatonin safe for patients with dementia

The drugs can improve sleep moderately.

Even though the drugs may be safe for most healthy people, some experts do not recommend melatonin for seniors with dementia.

This view has been backed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

The institution does not advise elderly people with dementia to use melatonin or other sleep-promoting drugs.

Not All Experts Recommend Melatonin

This is due to an increased risk of falling as well as other adverse effects.

The adverse effects of melatonin supplementation though rare include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Hypothermia (lower body temperature)
  • Decreased blood flow

Melatonin may also be UNSAFE for individuals who have orthostatic hypotension, diabetes, bleeding disorders, autoimmune illnesses, depression, transplant recipients, and seizure disorders.

When it comes to answering the query is melatonin safe for elderly with dementia there are conflicting responses.

Some experts state that it is safe while others say it is not.

This is because, in elderly persons who have dementia, melatonin treatment has proved to worsen caregiver rating of the person’s mood.

Additionally, it might also interfere with other drugs the individual may be taking.

Bellow are some of the studies that may help answer the query is melatonin safe for elderly with dementia.

Studies Regarding Melatonin and Dementia

studies regarding melatonin and dementia

Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience reviewed the perks of melatonin and the effect of environmental light on seniors with dementia.

The study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that melatonin was useful with sleep issues.

However, it also increased withdrawn dementia-related behavior. The results were enhanced when combined with a bright light environment. The study involved 189 elderly persons.

Most of the participants (87%) had dementia. All the participants were living in assisted care facilities.

The seniors were assigned to different groups randomly.

The groups received different treatments and these included:

  • Melatonin and dim light exposure
  • Melatonin and bright light exposure
  • Placebo and dim light
  • Placebo and bright light

The researchers discovered that melatonin helped to enhance the onset of sleep as well as sleep duration by 27 minutes.

Side Effects

However, it was also the cause of unwanted side effects of increased depressive and withdrawn behaviour in participants.

Bright light therapy was also linked to improvements in depressive and cognitive deterioration symptoms as well as improved functional abilities and daily living activities.

The experts concluded that a combination of the two therapies produced the best results. This resulted in a decrease in agitation, night-time restlessness, and aggression.

It seemed that a bright light environment countered the negative melatonin effects.

A pilot study was also conducted that may help answer the question is melatonin safe for elderly with dementia.

The researchers wanted to assess the tolerability and efficacy of melatonin in treating sleep disturbances in the elderly.

The professionals observed 41 patients of whom 28 were female and 13 were male with a mean age of 74 ± years.

Studying Three Groups

The participants were separated into three groups:

1. Participants with sleep disturbances only
2. Members with sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression
3. Persons with sleep disturbances and dementia of the vascular or degenerative type

All participants of the study were orally given 3-mg gelatin capsules of melatonin for 21 days 30 minutes before expected sleep time.

Sleep logs and structured clinical interviews were used to assess daytime alertness and overall sleep quality. Melatonin IMPROVED sleep quality SIGNIFICANTLY from day 2 or 3 of treatment reducing the number of awakenings in participants with sleep disturbances.

Participants also recorded improved daytime alertness in persons who were only experiencing sleep disturbances.

Clinical assessments recorded that symptoms improved in 73% of the patients with sleep disturbances only and 44% of participants with sleep disturbances associated with depression.

70% of the participants with dementia also recorded a significant decrease in sundowning.

Some participants who were on benzodiazepines also reduced intake during the treatment duration. The researchers did not note any side effects attributed to the treatment.

Results of the study suggest that melatonin may help treat primary sleep disturbances in seniors.

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Foods Rich in Melatonin

foods rich in melatonin

Supplements are not the only source of melatonin when the body is not producing enough.

Scientists have identified some foods that are great sources of melatonin and these include

Tart Cherries

Tart Cherry juice is one of the most popular sleep aids.

Professionals have uncovered that they increase melatonin levels in the body; hence, improves sleep.

Because the juice version is high in sugar, it may not be recommended to drink it at night. It is healthier to eat cherries instead.

Warm Milk

For ages, warm milk has been used as an effective insomnia remedy implying that the beverage is high in melatonin.


Eggs are a nutritious source of melatonin also offering iron and protein among other essential nutrients.


Fish is a better source of melatonin when compared to the other types of meat.

The best options are oily fish like sardines and salmon which also offer beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Goji Berries

In addition to having anti-aging effects, goji berries are high in melatonin and may be useful in enhancing sleep.


Many nut options have good amounts of melatonin.

Almonds and pistachios have the highest levels. Nuts are also good sources of minerals, antioxidants, and healthy omega 3 fats.

Closing Thoughts – is melatonin safe for elderly with dementia?

Because sleep problems are common for people with dementia, it is not a surprise when people ask is melatonin safe for elderly with dementia.

It is not yet 100% clear whether melatonin supplementation is safe or not for seniors with dementia.

This is because some experts claim it is safe especially when combined with other alternative therapies like bright light exposure while others say it is not.

This simply means that more scientific studies need to be done on the use of melatonin supplementation in seniors with dementia.

This said it is important to note that different people react differently when they take melatonin.

It is; therefore, crucial for a person with dementia to consult a physician first before taking any medication or supplement to be on the safe side.

Bonus: What is Melatonin

Is Melatonin Safe for Elderly with Dementia and Alzheimer's?

Melatonin can be described as a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland and is responsible for regulating the circadian rhythms which is the sleep-wake cycle.

It is also known as the darkness hormone because under normal conditions, the human body synthesizes melatonin at night and it is inhibited during the day.

In addition to managing the natural sleep cycle melatonin also has pleiotropic effects like anti-inflammatory, antiapoptotic, antioxidant, and immunomodulative effects.

As people grow older the body begins to produce less melatonin.

Research also shows that people with different types of dementia experience impaired melatonin production. This means that they may develop insomnia where persons with the progressive illness may have trouble sleeping.

This may also result in impaired cognitive function in the affected individuals and other symptoms like sundowning caused by circadian disorganization.

When this happens, physicians may prescribe melatonin supplements.

Close Connection Between Dementia and Sleep

dementia and sleep

Researches show that dementia and sleep are actually quite closely connected to each other.

Also, those with dementia usually develop bad sleeping habits which we need to take into consideration as soon as possible.

Sleep deprivation is known to have profound consequences on a person’s health.

This can include tiredness and grumpiness as well as the risk of serious medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and shorter life span among many others.

Over the years, there also seems to be a connection between dementia and sleep.

This is even though scientists and researchers cannot conclusively explain how dementia affects a person’s sleep.

Studies indicate that about 40% of people who have dementia experience sleep disturbances. For some individuals, their internal “biological clock” may be damaged, affecting their sleep.

Another logical explanation is that the parts of the brain that control whether a person stays awake or not may be damaged by the disease, which results in disturbing sleep patterns.

Before experts can give conclusive explanations, let us look at different aspects of sleep risk and dementia.

Sleep Problems That Dementia People May Face

sleep problems that dementia people may face

There is a wide array of sleep issues that people with dementia may experience over the course of the illness, such as:


In as much as we are encouraged to enjoy quality sleep all night, people with dementia may end up oversleeping.

This is where a person spends most of their time in bed during the day and at night. Sleeping a lot is usually common in the later stages of the illness.

As the disease progresses, brain damage also becomes more extensive, making a person become frailer and weaker over time.

This typically results in a person with dementia to sleep more as their symptoms also become more severe.

Some medication that an individual may be taking like antihistamines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics can contribute to excessive sleepiness.

Light Sleep Disorders

These are disorders that are also known as (RDB) rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder. They make individuals act out their dreams by talking or moving in their sleep.

Sleep Disordered Breathing

This is where a person has difficulties breathing while sleeping.

It may be as a result of obstructions in the airway, which makes an individual work harder to breathe normally. At times, this is also referred to as sleep apnoea.

It is considered to be one of the risk factors when it comes to dementia and sleep.

This is because disordered breathing can damage the brain because the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen change when a person has challenges while breathing.

Most of the time, this can also change how blood flows to the brain.

Difficulties Falling Asleep

Many people with dementia often have trouble falling asleep. A person may be in bed wanting to sleep, but it will not happen.

Counting sheep and drinking chamomile tea may not offer the solution that the person needs.

This makes the affected person want to wander off into the darkness or start yelling or calling the names of their caregivers.

Hypnagogic Hallucinations

These are imagined sensations that a person ends up thinking are real. They are also known as sleep hallucinations that happen when a person is falling asleep.

The hallucinations can appear in different forms, whether vision, taste, smell, or sound. Research about this is still ongoing as the hallucinations continue to fascinate scientists, philosophers, and writers.

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

These are characterized by normal sleep patterns that usually happen at random times during the day. These are very common when a person is growing older.

It usually happens because of reduced exposure to natural light, a decrease in physical activity, as well as changes in circadian rhythms that come with aging.

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Factors that May Cause Sleep Problems in People with Dementia

factors that may cause sleep problems in people with dementia

Several factors besides brain damage may be the cause of sleep issues worth mentioning when talking about dementia and sleep. Some of these include but are not limited to:

1. Restless leg syndrome

This is a disorder that brings about unpleasant “tingling” or “crawling” feeling on the legs which makes a person want to move them all the time

2. Depression

Depression is very common with people who have dementia, and it may end up affecting how they sleep. In most cases, only a professional can give a positive diagnosis of depression in adults because this is often confused with Alzheimer’s disease.

The two conditions share symptoms like apathy, isolation, impaired thinking, social withdrawal, loss of interest in hobbies, and activities amongst others.

Once depression has been positively diagnosed, treatment can improve quality of life significantly.

Treating Sleep Problems

treating sleep problems
There are two main approaches when it comes to treating sleep issues in people who have dementia.

One of these has a lot to do with lifestyle changes that can improve sleep quality.

Some of the solutions to these may include:

1. Regular sleep regimes

Encouraging a person who has dementia to stick to regular meal times as well and going to bed and waking up times can help them enjoy their sleep more.

This way, they will not have to deal with too many dire consequences of dementia and sleep.

2. Exercise

Exercise is a recommended treatment method because it gets the body moving; thus, helps the organs in the body to function as they should.

Because people who have dementia may not be able to work out vigorously, caregivers must identify light exercises that the individuals under their care can handle with ease.

Moderate amounts of walking can do the trick. Night-time stretching may also be helpful.

3. Diet

It is vital for people who have dementia to eat well-balanced food to get the nutrients the body needs to boost immunity. Avoid processed foods and stick to organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, complex carbs, and proteins.

A nutritionist can offer advice on the best foods that the individual with dementia should eat. It also helps to avoid alcohol and cigarettes.

4. Limit sleep disruptions

limit sleep disruptions
Sleep interruptions, whether caused by a noisy neighborhood or a snoring partner, can end up harming brain health.

Persons who experience poor restless sleep have a higher risk of cognitive decline compared to the ones who sleep well throughout the night.

Individuals who experience fragmented sleep can use blackout curtains or a white noise machine to help them sleep well throughout the night.

5. Plan more active days

plan more active days
Boredom during the day is one of the reasons why an individual may want to nap more.

It is advisable to plan more active days filled with activities that the seniors love. This way, they get more tired at night, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.

6. Creating a safe and comfortable sleeping space

creating a safe and comfortable sleeping space
Modifying a person’s sleeping environment to make it more welcoming, safe and comfortable can help an individual enjoy quality shut-eye at night.

This is where you can do things like check on temperatures, use nightlights, clean and soft bedding.

Also, remove clutter and use motion and door sensors for the ideal sleep environment.

7. Ensuring exposure to bright light in the morning

ensuring exposure to bright light in the morning
Furthermore, persons with dementia can also try light therapy.

Exposing seniors to natural light often can help to realign their circadian rhythm to reduce the effects of some sleep disorders.

Studies also show that light therapy helps to enhance sleep patterns for people with dementia.

8. Music intervention

music intervention
The right type of music can also help a person fall asleep when they are having difficulties with this.

Ideally, it should be something with soft beats like Mozart and other classical tunes. Loud music with fast beats may not offer the desired results.

An individual can also try playing a musical instrument to drive them to sleep.

The other option available when a person wants to deal with sleep issues is the use of medications and other apparatus.

Note that a person should only consider this when they have tried the non-medical route without any success.

Examples of such include:

1. Using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) – This is a machine that helps to reduce the effects of sleep apnea.

2. Some medications like benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants can also improve sleep.

It is always best for the person with dementia to consult a doctor before taking any type of medication to be on the safe side. Some drugs may have a negative effect when it comes to dementia and sleep.

3. Doctors may also prescribe melatonin hormone that can maintain regular sleep-wake cycles.

4. Treating any pains that a person may be having can also work well for a person who wants to sleep better.

5. A person who wakes up at night should not be encouraged to watch TV, listen to loud music, or be over-active during the wakefulness periods.

This will only encourage them to stay awake instead of going back to bed

Closing Thoughts

Lack of enough quality sleep in people who have dementia can negatively affect the physical and emotional health of a person who has dementia.

This may end up worsening cognitive symptoms, ultimately reducing the quality of life of the person with the disease as well as the people around them.

When a person is having problems with dementia and sleep, it is important to try and get to the bottom of the issue.

This is by finding out what is causing these issues to administer the proper treatment that will help a person lead a more fulfilling and satisfying life even when they are ill.

Do People with Dementia Sleep a Lot?

do people with dementia sleep a lot

There is one question that comes up a lot when discussing dementia and that is do people with dementia sleep a lot?

It has been established that individuals with dementia tend to sleep too much especially those who are already in the later stages.

This happens at night and during the daytime as well.

Below we will tackle this topic focusing on the reasons that may cause persons with dementia to oversleep and what to do when it happens.

Reasons People with Dementia Sleep a Lot

reasons people with dementia sleep a lot
Seeing that most people will answer yes when you ask do people with dementia sleep a lot it is important to discuss some of the reasons behind people with the illness sleeping too much.

One of them is the fact that as the disease progresses, the damage that occurs to the brain becomes more widespread.

These changes that occur in the human brain normally interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm which is the daily cycle that determines an individual’s sleeping patterns.

Dementia often affects sleeping habits in several ways.

You may find that one person sleeps a lot during the day; thus, it becomes difficult to fall asleep at night.

Some people may go through what is known as sundowning.

This causes irritability, restlessness, or confusion as the daylight begins to fade away. This makes it difficult for the person with the illness to fall asleep or even remain in their beds.

Dementia Often Affects Sleeping Habits

dementia often affects sleeping habits
While trying to come up with a conclusive answer to the query do people with dementia sleep a lot, researchers from the University of California conducted a study trying to establish the link between neurodegenerative illnesses and excessive sleepiness.

They found that people who have dementia often experience significant brain cell loss in the parts of the organ that keeps people awake.

The experts published their findings in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia journal.

They also stated that the over-accumulation of tau proteins is also responsible for triggering these changes in the brain.

These tau proteins form tangles that interfere with communication between impact cell health and brain cells or neurons.

Medication can make dementia patients sleepy

medication can make dementia patients sleepy
Lacking quality sleep especially when a person is ill can also make an individual become weaker making it difficult to do anything; hence, the weak persons will spend most of their time sleeping.

Medication that people with dementia take may also contribute to spending too much time sleeping.

These may include sleeping pills as well as antihistamines, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.

Another reason that may cause individuals with dementia to sleep a lot is those who suffer from sleeping disorders.

An example is sleep apnoea which causes a person to stop breathing occasionally as they sleep.

It can be a result of muscles in the throat relaxing or issues with brain signals. This can lead the affected person to sleep for longer hours.

Restless leg syndrome which is common in persons with dementia can cause unpleasant tingling or crawling sensations that usually strike at night when a person is enjoying long periods of rest.

This can make a person have trouble sleeping and they may want to compensate for these interruptions the next day.

Coping Mechanisms for People with Dementia who Sleep a Lot

coping mechanisms for people with dementia who sleep a lot
Family members and caregivers can worry a lot when a loved one with dementia starts to sleep a lot.

There are a few practical steps you can take to make the situation a little better depending on the cause of the sleepiness.

For instance, if a person with dementia is sleeping a lot because of disease progression, there is not much you can do.

However, if it is the medication they are taking that is causing them to sleep too much, you can always visit a professional doctor who will review the medicines they are taking.

Consult a doctor

consulting a doctor
Consulting a doctor is important when asking yourself do people with dementia sleep a lot.

This is because the professional can also help rule out any other health conditions or infections that may be causing the individual with dementia to sleep too much.

If the person with dementia has other physical ailments that are making them sleep a lot, the doctor will come in and offer the most appropriate solutions that can help ease the sleep issues.

Other coping mechanisms you can adopt include keeping a regular sleep/wake cycle.

You can also try and keep the person with dementia busy or entertained during the day so that they do not feel the need to go to bed when it is not the time for sleeping.

If a person can still complete daily activities help to come up with simple routines that they can accomplish throughout the day so that they can always have something to look forward to.

It is crucial to expose persons with dementia to natural daylight because it helps to regulate the body clock.

When the person is sleeping too much and they are comfortable without any negative impact, it is best to let them be.

Closing Remarks

The most common answer to the question, “Do people with dementia sleep a lot?” is yes.

Persons with the illness tend to sleep too much not because they want to but because the condition they are in forces them to want to spend more time in bed.

Caregivers can try and mitigate the situation by trying various non-medical approaches that might help.

It is also important to visit a doctor to make sure it is not other infections or illnesses that are causing a person to oversleep.

The experts are in the best position to offer practical solutions that can help persons with dementia.

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