Is there a link between cerebral palsy and sleep?
Between 23%–46% of children with cerebral palsy experience some sort of sleeping difficulty.
This article will explain what common cerebral palsy conditions affect sleep, the consequences of not enough sleep, and how to treat sleeping problems.
Complications of Cerebral Palsy That Can Affect Sleep
Sleep is essential for optimal growth, cognitive function, and temperament. Unfortunately, cerebral palsy can definitely prevent children from getting the good night’s sleep they need.
Here are 6 conditions that can interfere with sleep quality and harm your child’s physical and mental wellbeing:
Cerebral Palsy and epilepsy do not directly cause one another, but often co-occur as a result of damage to the brain.
It is well-known that epilepsy can disturb sleep and prompt sleeping disorders.
Moreover, treatments for epilepsy like antiepileptics can have side effects that affect sleep and cause excessive drowsiness during the daytime.
2. Impaired Movement
Cerebral palsy is mainly characterized by impaired movement from uneven muscle tone and lack of control.
Inability to shift positions during sleep can cause discomfort and prevent you from sleeping.
Similarly, being unable to control the muscles in the mouth like your tongue can make it difficult to breathe, which can also disrupt your sleep.
There are a lot of factors that can cause pain in people with cerebral palsy. It can come from the motor impairment itself or from the many associated conditions of cerebral palsy.
The more pain you’re in, the more difficult it is to sleep, and the less you sleep, the more severe your experience of pain is. As a result, you inevitably fall into a negative feedback loop.
4. Visual Impairment
Visual impairment is another condition that is not directly related to but commonly co-occurs with cerebral palsy.
Abnormal light perception affects the regulation of sleep hormones like melatonin and adenosine, which can affect sleep quality.
5. Respiratory Complications
Respiratory complications are a secondary condition of cerebral palsy that can make it difficult for your child to breathe properly.
While asleep, you can’t consciously control your breathing, so any sort of obstruction to your airways can prevent you from breathing.
6. Gastrointestinal Issues
The vast majority of children with cerebral palsy will experience some sort of gastrointestinal issue which can cause a lot of discomfort and prevent sleep.
The most common is gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is when stomach acids irritate the esophagus. This can cause heartburn, vomiting, and nausea.
Symptoms of Sleep Problems in Children with Cerebral Palsy
It’s essential to manage sleep complications early to prevent negative impact on your child’s growth, mood, and learning.
The most prevalent signs of sleep disorder in children with cerebral palsy are:
- Difficulties falling and staying asleep
- Breathing difficulties while sleeping
- Teeth grinding
- Sleeping or excessive tiredness during the day
- Sleep talking
While one night of poor quality sleep isn’t worrisome, continued nights of interrupted sleep can be problematic and significantly affect your child’s development and behavior during the day. In the following section, we’ll discuss how poorly managed sleeping problems can affect children with cerebral palsy.
Consequences of Sleep Deficiency in Children with Cerebral Palsy
One night of insufficient sleep is not a big deal, but repeatedly being unable to get through the night can seriously affect your child’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Have you ever looked at your child and thought, “Wow, it’s like he grew overnight!”?
Well, there is some truth behind that thought.
The greatest amounts of growth hormone are released by the brain into the bloodstream during sleep.
Human growth hormone is essential for restoring and repairing the body to promote growth.
Children who don’t sleep through the night will have growth hormone deficiencies and will generally be shorter than others their age.
Lack of sleep will definitely affect emotion regulation.
Even just skipping a nap for very young children can cause them to be irritable and reactive.
Energy is restored through sleep.
Children with cerebral palsy might already be sensitive and prone to emotional outbursts if they have speech impairments due to inability to communicate.
Sleep deficiency will only magnify the occurrence of these outbursts.
Without enough sleep, children won’t be able to think or pay attention as effectively as they could.
This will impair learning and could result in poor performance in school.
Effect on Family
If your child has cerebral palsy and sleep problems, it’s important to be aware that it may also take a toll on your quality of sleep.
Typically, parents of children with sleeping difficulties will also be up throughout the night to tend to their children.
Parents need adequate sleep too! Lack of sleep can affect the parent’s productivity and alertness the following day.
How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?
The amount of sleep your child needs will vary depending on their age.
Infants younger than 1 year old should sleep 14-15 hours/day.
Toddlers between 1-2 years old should sleep 12-14 hours/day.
Children between 3-6 years old should aim for 10-13 hours/day.
Lastly, children between 6-12 years old should sleep 9-11 hours/day.
As you can see, the younger your child is, the more sleep is necessary to recharge their systems.
Treatments for Sleeping Problems in Cerebral Palsy Patients
Lots of different factors can be preventing your child from sleeping through the night so treatments will vary.
Below, we’ll go over 3 treatment interventions to promote better quality sleep:
1. Adjust the Environment
Setting the right sleeping environment can make all the difference.
Prioritize comfort. This means avoiding harsh lighting, distracting sounds, and extreme temperatures.
Additionally, make sure that the texture of your child’s bedding isn’t too rough and won’t irritate the skin.
If the underlying cause of your child’s sleep disorder is pain, general painkillers like ibuprofen might just do the trick.
Keep in mind that if your child is prescribed stronger medications, there’s usually a greater risk of side effects.
Sometimes, the medications that your child is taking for other symptoms may be the cause of sleeping problems.
Anticonvulsants can help prevent seizures during sleep, but can also increase fatigue during the day.
If your child’s spasticity is keeping them up at night, muscle relaxants may be able to provide relief.
Melatonin supplements may be recommended to increase sleep hormone levels.
However, these decisions should not be made on your own. Be sure to speak to your child’s pediatrician before using any new medications.
Especially if your child has gastrointestinal issues, you should be very careful about what they eat before bed.
Try to avoid sugary foods several hours before your child’s bedtime to avoid spikes in energy.
Also, avoid feeding your child large meals because they can be difficult to digest and will keep them up at night.
Cerebral Palsy and Sleep: Summary
Sleep disorders should be taken very seriously because they can take a toll on your child’s physical and mental health.
Insufficient amounts of sleep will negatively affect growth, emotional stability, and cognitive performance in children with cerebral palsy.
Hopefully, this article helped you better understand the link between cerebral palsy and sleep.
Ultimately, seeking a professional evaluation will help identify the root of your child’s sleeping problems and provide the best solution. Good luck!