Children with Special Needs Have a Higher Rate of Sleep Disorders

Many children with special needs also have difficulty getting enough sleep, according to a study by the National Association of School Psychologists. The study found that more than 30% of special needs children have sleep disorders, a troubling problem because sleep deprivation can additionally aggravate the symptoms of the children’s medical or behavioral problems.

Recent studies published in Pediatrics found an association between snoring and sleep apnea (sleep disordered breathing (SDB)) and behavioral problems with a need for special education. SDB is strongly associated with conditions such as Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Snoring most nights is not normal. Snoring can be an indication that a child has sleep apnea/SDB.  Sleep apnea is when there are pauses in breathing that cause the child to wake up, at least briefly. Left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to behavioral problems, learning disabilities and hyperactivity. Chronic (long-term) sleep apnea can also cause heart problems in children, such as pulmonary hypertension.

A study by the American College of Chest Physicians found that children who snored loudly were twice as likely to have a learning impairment. The consequences of sleep apnea can be so severe that the American Academy of Pedicatrics recommends that all children who snore be tested for sleep apnea.

Signs of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Sleeping in strange positions
  • Experiencing night terrors
  • Bedwetting or perspiring during sleep

Most children who have sleep apnea but are otherwise healthy respond well to having their tonsils removed. In addition, children with sleep apnea should be encouraged to sleep in a position other than on their backs because this can exacerbate apnea.

Approximately two-thirds of children with Down’s syndrome have sleep apnea because their larger tongues, small mid face and lower muscle tone make them more prone to SDB and apnea. Children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and other conditions associated with low muscle tone also have higher rates of sleep apnea.

Children with autism can have difficulties with their circadian rhythm, the sleep-wake cycle that governs wakefulness and sleep, driving them to stay up late and not get enough sleep.

Though some special needs sleep problems are physiological in nature, such as those related to low muscle tone, many are behavioral, such as habitual night wakings, waking too early in the morning or fighting bedtime. Often, parents may not set the same bedtime limits for children with special needs that they set for other children. Defining clear parameters for sleep–including when bedtime occurs, where a child sleeps, and an acceptable hour to wake in the morning–and gently, yet firmly, enforcing these rules can help get sleep on track for children with special needs.

If sleep apnea is suspected, the child’s physician may send the child to an ear, nose and throat specialist to asses the tonsils. A sleep study may also be ordered for the child. A sleep study is performed overnight in a sleep lab. The study is called a polysomnogram, and records different sleep stages and any detected problems in a child’s sleep and breathing.

Sometimes physicians may suggest that families invest in particular mattresses or assistive devices for sleep, such as the ones listed here.

Help For Families And Children With Cerebral Palsy

Jesse Reiter & Rebecca Walsh, Medical Malpractice Attorneys for Babies | Sleep Disorders | Birth Injury LawyersCerebral palsy is a term used to describe a group of chronic disorders impairing control of movement that appear in the first few years of life and typically do not worsen over time. The disorders are caused by damage to motor areas in the brain that disrupts the brain’s ability to control movement and posture. This damage can occur when there is trauma to the infant’s head during the birth process or when there is oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery or shortly after birth.

Children with cerebral palsy often require lifelong therapy and treatment. If your child suffers from cerebral palsy, call the nationally recognized attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers. Our birth injury lawyers have decades of experience with cerebral palsy cases and will review your child’s case for negligence, answer your questions, and inform you of your legal options. The initial consultation is free and we never charge any fees until we win your case. Email or call us at 888-419-2229.

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