Sundowning, Sundowners and Night Terrors — Are they all the same thing

I recently spoke with a friend diagnosed with Early On-set Alzheimer’s. He described  new symptoms that have begun to plague him. “Night Terrors” was the best he could manage to describe his fright-filled nights. At least, for a couple hours each night, as he sleeps, he is attacked by unbelievable terrors. Similar to a nightmare, he says,  but profoundly more frightening, leaving him fearful to fall asleep at all.

I related my Mom’s experience with Sundowning–as told in this article, “What causes Sundowners and Sleepless Nights.” But my friend said it wasn’t exactly the same for him.

From the people I’ve spoken to, Sundowning (sundowners) is suffered differently by each Alzheimer’s patient. Some Alzheimer’s and Dementia sufferers have no Sundowner or Sundowning symptoms at all. While others suffer a variance on the same theme: “Sleepless Nights.” Some sleep fit-fully, some cry or moan, some wander or roam the house, while others, such as my friend, have horrible terrors that keep them awake for hours.

How ever the symptoms present themselves, it’s an odd behavior and, as far as I’ve been able to discover, the experts have little information about Sundowning (Sundowners), it’s cause or symptoms.

I did learn from this friend that his own cure for the night terrors has a common thread with my Mom’s eventual remedy. My friend found that by wearing head-phones tuned to his favorite music on the radio, lulled him to a peaceful sleep and often allowed him to awake in the morning feeling rested and without memory of any night terrors.

My Mom always wanted to be left alone and would not allow me to soothe her. I would try to hold her hand and offer consolation but she did not want it. She would sit on the side of the bed and rock herself, humming quietly, as though lulling a baby to sleep. And most nights it worked for her.

I wish I had been aware of my friend’s idea back then. My mom loved gentle, soft music and would have been happy to try his idea with head phones and a melody to cure her sorrowful nights.

If your loved one suffers from Sundowners or Night Terrors or becomes agitated or distraught during the day or night, soft music is often helpful. It seems to calm and relax them, especially if they are already a music lover. I have  learned from others, though, that even patients who didn’t care for music before they had Alzheimer’s or Dementia have become converts to soft music after their illness.

My Mom needed a hearing aid but refused to wear it due to all the “noise in her head,” she called it. But she loved music and a soft tune from her head-phones. So if you’re looking for a calming affect for your loved one, don’t forget to try head-phones and soft music at bed time too..


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  1. says

    Thank you so very much for putting a name to what my Mom was facing, before she” went off to sleep”for good. My Dear Mom would fall asleep in front of the tv, and not want to go back to her room as night fell, so I slept in the bed beside her until she left this world (mainly because she would have trouble coming out of the bathroom, when the lights were turned out at bedtime, and I wanted to protect her at ALL costs). I miss my Mom Every single day, and cry bitter tears at times but know in my heart and mind, that she really is finally” at Peace” now. I look forward to the day when dementia, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, will be NO more. Thanks again for a truly insightful article, it helped more than you know.

    • says

      Ahh Jeanne, your mom sounds like she was a sweet and lovely lady. And you’re a loving daughter to sleep beside her. My Mom had terrible nights also. She would go to bed but I could hear her cry and moan for hours.

      I too would like to see this disease cured.

      Thank you for sharing your experience with Sundowners–
      Take care, our thoughts are with you,

  2. MAKAW says

    Thanks for this insight. We’ve recently moved into sleeping issues including the need to fall asleep with the television on and sleeping with the lights on. He’s sleeping fitfully a couple of hours a night and I can observe that he is struggling to stay awake ….. fighting sleep. In the mornings, he says he is fine and doesn’t remember not sleeping… but this is taking its toll on me!

    I think I’ll get an small music player and ear buds and see if this helps us.

    • ~ Sandy says

      It’s fairly common to have issues with sleep. Some have trouble falling asleep and others wake during the night or sleep fitfully. Most that I’ve spoke with have had good results with music. I thought it would be best to have something plain and melodic, but my friends who have dementia or Alzheimer’s say it works just as well if they listen to their favorite music, whatever genre it may be.

      I hope this helps with your issue as well. You’ll have to let us know!

      Wishing you the best,

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