Alzheimers and Dementia can Cause Sundowners and Frightening Nights


Alzheimer’s and Dementia can Cause Sundowners and Frightening Nights

If your family member has Alzheimer’s or Dementia, they may suffer through some nights that are more than fitful.

Severe mood swings can occur during the evening hours that are often referred to as Sundowning or Sundowners. My Mom would often awake from a sound sleep, crying and moaning as though she’d suffered a horrible trauma.

Bouts with Sundowners or Sundowning seem to spin the patient into a torrent of intense feelings of agony where they often groan and wail, longing for their mother or father or the “home” of their childhood.

My Mom would cry-out for her own mother and demand that they come and get her. She would beg to go home, as though I was holding her hostage. Mom’s weeping and wailing would be inconsolable no matter how much I tried to soothe her. She would be agitated and anxious and cry for long hours while I could only stand by and watch her emotional pain.

In the beginning, I was baffled and tried to help with soft, soothing words as the moaning began.  But as the severe moods occurred again and again, I took a more aggressive view of these fitful nights and made a more concentrated effort to slow their occurrence.

The only way I found to insure that Mom had more peaceful nights was to make certain her evening hours before bedtime were more harmonious. I always tried to coax Mom into some light, physical activity in late afternoon. Mom loved to sweep the porch or rake the yard. She’d always been an “outside” person, so this was a treat for her. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous, but enough activity to make rest and sleep a welcome end to a long day.

I tried to make certain Mom never went to bed hungry or thirsty, offering a glass of water or juice shortly before bed time. On the other hand, she wouldn’t go to bed immediately after a meal, either. In fact, we tried to have dinner a little earlier than most, since a person with later stage Alzheimer’s can be confused by something as slight as indigestion.

When Mom lived with us, we had “lazy time” in early evening.  A couple hours before bedtime, everyone in the house settled down to the television, a movie, music or a book. Mom had a large recliner and she’d kick-back with the rest of us. Once the bouts with Sundowners began, I extended her “lazy time,” having her settle-down and rest several hours before bedtime.

When the Sundowners symptoms did occur, I never tried to argue or explain what was happening. In the beginning, I had tried to soothe her, but Mom always refused any offer of comfort. And most often, if I spoke or said anything during the fitful times, she didn’t appear to hear me or understand that I offered comfort.

So I made certain she was comfortable and offered her radio and head-set. Sometimes the music would circumvent the entire event and Mom would fall asleep, peacefully, before the Sundowning could occur. And on those nights we were happy that we all had a good and peaceful night’s sleep.

At this stage of Alzheimer’s, I think comfort and love is the most valuable thing a person can receive. Their mind is full of confusion and stress and worry.  My goal when my Mom was in this late stage of Alzheimer’s was to give her as many calm and peaceful and comfortable days and nights as possible.


Most Relaxing Classical Music in the UniverseG.G.Martinsen 16 GB Slim 1.78Aromatherapy Essential Oil DiffuserSleep Easy Sound Conditioner, White Noise MachineCelestial Seasonings Sleepytime Extra TeaYogi Bedtime TeaBigelow Sweet Dreams Herbal Tea Relaxing Blend



  1. says

    My husband has dementia and parkinson’s and is now having bad dreams and last night was calling for his mother. Does anyone have any suggestions? Some nights are worse than others.

    • says

      Hello Emmie, I can sure relate to your problem. My Mom did the same thing and it was so frightening and stressful to me. I wasn’t certain what to do either.

      1. I think you might want to visit his doctor. Sometimes those with dementia have a physical issue but aren’t cognizant of it enough to let the caregiver know. The physical ailment can show itself as “bad nights,” with little sleep. Your husband’s physician might recommend a sleeping aid.

      2. It isn’t unusual for those with dementia to ask or even yearn for a parent. They remember distant memories more clearly than current ones, and often request a family member from their youth.

      3. I know it’s difficult for you because you certainly can’t bring his mother back. Anything my Mom asked for that was absolutely impossible to give, I would say– “Tomorrow, Mom. We’ll go there tomorrow.” or “Tomorrow, Mom. He’ll come and see you tomorrow.”
      The person with dementia won’t remember what you promised later, but it will bring them peace for the moment they are suffering through.

      4. I’ve also had others mention that music worked wonders for them at night. A soft, gentle music, or one of hubby’s favorite melodies. It might take his mind off the nightmares he’s suffering.

      5. Perhaps a glass of warm hot chocolate, or milk before bedtime.
      Emmie, I hope some of these ideas help and I’m sure that a few others will come online and share their best ideas, too, with our Facebook presence. We invite you to join us there. Alzheimer’s Support on Facebook.
      Don’t forget to take care of yourself too. Being a caregiver is stressful.

      Take care,

  2. Edna Morales says

    Same thing happens to my 82 year old mom. Up until a few weeks ago she was moaning in her sleep. She will get up from bed, and the look in her face, along with her heart palpitation will tell me that she was terrified, but she couldn’t explained to me why. After reading the first chapter of Learning to speak Alzheimer’s, I decided to changed her bed routine. I installed a wall water fountain in her room, I put a few drops of lavender oil on the water. Then, I play a relaxation CD as soon as I tuck her in bed, and I will sit in her rocking chair and wait until she’s dip asleep before turning the light off, and leaving her room. So far, that has giving her some comfort. She has not gotten up once, since I stared doing this. The new routine is working!!

    • ~ Sandy says

      What a wonderful daughter you are! I think you’ve created a calm and relaxing atmosphere that is keeping your mom’s fears at bay. Good job! Hope this works for others as well. It sounds very serene and relaxing to me.


  3. Norrms says

    Nightmares or Night terrors affect all types of dementia and especiaily Lew Bodys. I have had these nightmares for years and both my father and grndmother had them as well. Neither of them took any kind of medicine for the condition, they both died from dementia and as you know I also have a diagnosis of dementia. Pepole are quick to blame modern medicine when in fact things like this have been around long beore modern medicines were discovered. Best wishes, Norrms and familyxxxxxxx

    • ~ Sandy says

      Good Morning Norrms,

      I have to agree with you on this one. My mom wasn’t taking any medications when she had her worst nightmares and sundowining symptoms. Later, she was medicated but it seemed to have no affect on her sleepless nights.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.