As someone is approaching end of life, you may notice they are napping more frequently, falling asleep while eating or during conversation, or even sleeping most of the day. This is normal.

 

In an average healthy person, sleep restores our energy and helps to heal our bodies. When someone is dying, their metabolism and body systems are slowing, and they may not have the energy to stay awake for extended periods of time. Their body is working hard to sustain itself, even just laying there.

 

What can you do when your loved one is sleeping more? Support them where they are. Understand what their body is going through.

In the beginning stages, encourage them to go to bed at a decent hour, get up at the same time in the mornings, and try to avoid naps during the day to promote better sleep at night. It is also helpful to discourage the use of nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine at bed time and to ensure their pain is managed and they are comfortable. Having a routine at bedtime like a warm bath, putting on pajamas, and some calming music can also assist in better sleep quality.

As their decline continues and they are sleeping more during the day, let them rest when they need to. Don’t force them to stay awake. Provide a calming environment. Decrease bright lights. Provide relaxing, soft music. You may also want to limit, or space out, visitors and visit times so they don’t feel obligated to stay awake because someone is there.

Keep in mind that some days are better than others. They may have some periods where they are suprisingly more awake and alert. Don’t take those moments for granted and be thankful you were present during those times.

Finally, increased sleeping is not the only sleep-cycle disturbance they may have. They may also experience periods of insomnia or periods of restlessness, agitation, or anxiety. These will be discussed in later posts.

 

Remember to take things one day at a time. Every person experiences end of life differently. It is helpful to recognize where they are in that process and how you can support them during their journey.