by Lisa Smalls, North Carolina

A child with Down syndrome and his or her parents can face specific challenges when it comes to achieving quality sleep. Quality of life for the whole family is paramount when dealing with symptoms of children with Down syndrome that leads to sleep deprivation. Parents experience sleep deprivation themselves, which makes it harder to be parents during the day as well. Understand causes, symptoms, and what parents can do to be proactive when helping a child achieve quality sleep.

Causes and Symptoms

There are two main causes for sleep deprivation in children with Down syndrome: physical or breathing-related sleep problems and behavioural sleep problems. So the first step to take in addressing sleep problems with your child is to determine if the issue is physical or behavioural. Of physical issues, the most common is obstructive sleep apnea, where 31% of infants with Down syndrome have this condition. It is suggested to rule this condition out first, where obstructive sleep apnea can be responsible for an atypical level of restless sleep, snoring, and gasping. Physical traits associated with Down syndrome, like narrower upper airways, larger tongues and tonsils, looser muscle tone, and a tendency for being overweight increases the likelihood of such symptoms. Once physical and breathing problems are ruled out, consider behavioural issues prevalent in children with Down syndrome, often referred to as sleep hygiene principles. Devise a plan as parents where you adhere to these principles below, as well as other recommendations, in order to help your child’s quality of sleep.

Set a Firm Routine

A routine set of activities prior to bedtime can work wonders with a child who has Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome respond best to visual prompts that can be homemade and illustrate the same activities to take each night before falling asleep. Try to have a fixed routine that lasts around an hour before bedtime, where you try your best to align your child’s schedule to his or her nightly rhythm, meaning when he or she typically gets tired.

Reward and Encourage Appropriate Behavior

Social rewards often work for children with Down syndrome but not always. In this case, find other incentives that speak to your child instead of praise and cuddling. Consider small, inexpensive token gifts like gold stars that reinforce positive emotions. Either way, rewarding and encouraging appropriate behavior reduces anxiety surrounding bedtime and instead makes the nighttime experience more positive.

Set a Relaxing Bedtime Environment

A relaxing bedtime environment helps offset the anxiety caused by associate physical and behavioral challenges. A child must have a calm, comfortable environment where he or she feels safe and secure. His or her bedroom should be for sleep only with no distractions, and make sure the bedroom stays dark at night and the thermostat is set at a cool temperature. Have you tried laying on your child’s bed to see how comfortable the bedding and mattress are? Consider investing in the ideal sleep structure for your child.

With some extra attention to bedtime routine, reinforcing the right behaviours, and creating the ideal bedtime environment, managing the sleep of a child with Down syndrome can be a great deal easier. If you are just finding out more information about Down Syndrome, perhaps due to a recent diagnosis of a child, view A mother’s perspective on Down syndrome and diagnosis»