Everyone needs a good night’s sleep to maintain their physical, mental, and emotional health, and this is certainly no different for kids with Down syndrome. One thing that is different for them, though—as many people parenting a child with Down syndrome learns—is that they’re at greater risk than other kids of having problems achieving a full night’s restful sleep.
While about one-quarter of children in the general population struggle with sleep problems, somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of kids with Down syndrome experience them. If yours is one of them, or if you’re a new parent trying to prepare for potential issues, here’s some basic information about sleep problems in children with Down syndrome.
Common Causes of Sleep Problems in Children with Down Syndrome
Affected kids are particularly susceptible to a few sources of sleep disturbances. These make it difficult for them to fall asleep, or for them to stay asleep and complete the natural sleep cycles for a restful, restorative night’s sleep. These include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Sensitivity to environmental factors
- Discomfort due to physical disabilities or illness
- Behavioral issues at bedtime
Signs and Symptoms of Disturbed Sleep
Inadequate or fragmented sleep is unhealthy, so it’s important to spot it and take steps to fix it. There are various indications that your child isn’t getting enough restful sleep. While some are seen more often in kids with Down syndrome regardless of sleep disturbances, parents should watch for an increase in the frequency or severity of these signs. Common ones include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Lack of mental energy
- Difficulty focusing
- Aggressive behavior
How to Help Children with Down Syndrome Sleep Better
Obviously, managing sleep problems successfully requires identifying and addressing the causes. It’s always a good idea to have a conversation about sleep problems with your child’s doctor. On top of that, there are ways to promote good “sleep hygiene” that can help any kid fall asleep more easily and more soundly. Some measures to try include:
- Make sure your child gets physical activity and plenty of mental stimulation during the day, as both are important for wearing kids out.
- Don’t send your child to bed hungry or thirsty, but also don’t let him or her eat or drink for an hour or two before bedtime. Also, avoid sugar and caffeine at night.
- Whenever possible, don’t give your kid any medication containing a stimulant at night.
- Keep your child off of electronic screens (e.g., TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones) for a couple of hours leading up to bedtime.
- Create a bedtime routine that runs on the same schedule every day and that includes something relaxing, like reading together or taking a warm bath.
- Make sure your kid’s bedroom is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature, and that he or she finds all the bedding comfortable.
- Try playing white noise, ocean or rain sounds, or soothing music until your son or daughter falls asleep.
- Gently rub your child’s back or head for several minutes in bed.
- Consult your doctor about treating obstructive sleep apnea; there are a number of possible interventions, including but not limited to weight loss, nasal spray or medications, sleep masks, and even surgical options like removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids or jaw reconstruction.
- Your doctor may also recommend a natural sleep aid like a melatonin supplement.