Children with Down syndrome are more likely to experience difficulties with sleep than other children of the same age. There are two main causes of these sleep problems. The first is physical causes which can include temporary illnesses like an ear infection to more chronic conditions like sleep apnea. The second is behavioral causes like poor sleep hygiene. These tips are meant to help parents identify the cause of the sleep difficulty and to select a specific course of action to help their child overcome the sleep challenges they face so that they can get the sleep they need.
1. Identify the Root Cause
If your child is struggling with sleep, the first step is to determine if the source of their struggle is physical or behavioral. Temporary physical problems like illness may disrupt sleep due to discomfort but sleep issues related to that problem should resolve when it does. Other physical problems like sleep disorders or chronic conditions may require special accommodations.
2. Rule Out Sleep Apnea
Regardless of whether you think the problem is primarily physical or not, sleep apnea should be ruled out because children with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of the condition than those who do not. It is always a good idea to discuss any concerns about sleep with your child’s doctor so that sleep apnea and other sleep disorders can be diagnosed and treated or ruled out.
3. Stick to a Regular Routine
When it comes to creating a routine centered on securing a sound night of sleep, consistency is key. Children need to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. A clear, consistent schedule of activities leading up to bedtime can also be very beneficial in helping children settle into bed and sleep through the night.
4. Watch What They Eat
If eating or drinking something close to bedtime would impact your sleep, it is also likely to impact how well your child sleeps. Avoiding things like caffeinated beverages or high sugar foods in the evening hours can help children fall asleep naturally.
5. Align Schedules to Natural Rhythms
Everyone, including children with Down syndrome, find it easier to fall asleep when they go to bed tired. Wherever possible, align the aforementioned routine to the child’s natural rhythm. If they get tired around the same time every night, designate that as bedtime. Sticking to this kind of routine can also help create and maintain your child’s association between bedtime routine activities like reading a story and wearing pajamas with sleeping.
6. Create a Sleep Friendly Environment
If your child is struggling to settle in at night or has trouble staying asleep or waking too early, take a minute to experience their sleep environment in the same way they do. Lay in their bed. Is it comfortable? Is there a cold draft from the window? Is there lots of ambient light? Can you hear things that are happening in other rooms? Creating a calming, comfortable environment that makes your child feel safe and secure while also promoting a good night sleep can make a big difference in managing behavioral problems.
- Everything You Need to Know to Help Children Get a Good Night Sleep (valleysleepcenter.com)
- Children With Down Syndrome at Higher Risk for Sleep Problems (valleysleepcenter.com)
- Teens and Sleep, the Real Story (valleysleepcenter.com)