Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that primarily affects muscles and movement. There are many ways in which this manifests, from spastic movements to hearing loss to an inability to walk. Among the many issues that people with CP face is trouble sleeping. Children especially struggle to sleep well or enough because of CP.
The usual culprits for trouble sleeping in children with CP are things like seizures, muscle spasms, pain, difficulty breathing, or gastrointestinal upset. Studies show that as many as half of all children with diagnosed CP suffer with a sleep disorder. As a parent it is tough to watch a child suffer with the added discomfort of being unable to sleep, but there are things that can be done for a child with CP to make sleep easier and more restful.
Cerebral Palsy and Sleep Disorders
There are many ways in which CP can prevent a child from sleeping. In many cases the issue is severe enough that the child’s doctor can actually diagnose a sleeping disorder. For instance many children with CP suffer from sleep apnea. This condition is characterized by stopping and starting breathing throughout the night while asleep. It is a dangerous condition and is often accompanied by snoring.
Even if a child with CP does not have sleep apnea, his or her sleep can be disrupted by a number of factors. Muscle spasms, which are so common in kids with CP, are disruptive and make falling asleep challenging. A child with CP that cannot move easily may get uncomfortable during the night but be unable to shift position. CP can also cause chronic pain, which interferes with sleep.
Controlling Cerebral Palsy to Sleep Well
The number one, most important thing that parents can do to help their child sleep better is to treat and manage the symptoms of cerebral palsy. A child that is not getting proper treatment is likely to be more uncomfortable and less able to sleep. For example, if your child cannot fall asleep at night because of muscle spasms, the solution may be as simple as a muscle relaxant before bed.
Of course, treating and managing CP is far from straightforward. Even with the best care a child may still struggle to sleep at night. Medications may cause side effects or fail to work well enough. Therapies may help a little bit, but not enough to make a full night’s sleep easy. In addition to managing CP symptoms, there are several other things parents can do to help their children sleep through the night.
Start with a Sleep Diary
A great place to start is by using a sleep diary to better pinpoint the problems causing your child to have poor sleep patterns. Your child may not be able to tell you exactly what is wrong. Keep a record for a couple of weeks of everything related to your child’s sleep: frequency and timing of naps, times he or she goes to bed, how long it takes to fall asleep, anything he or she ate before bed, how you go through the process of getting ready for bed, and when and which medications your child takes.
Record anything you can think is relevant and you may start to see a pattern. For instance, you may begin to realize that your bedtime routine is stressful or that your child eats a snack before bed that has too much sugar. Even if you can’t find the problem in your notes, a sleep specialist may be able to and can use the information to help your child.
Get Exercise Every Day
Exercise is a great way for anyone to sleep better and more readily. Make sure your child gets adequate physical activity every day, even if his movements are restricted because of CP. Any kind of activity you can add to his day will help. It could even include therapy that helps treat CP, like physical therapy, aqua therapy, targeted stretching, or even just going for a walk, or using the wheelchair more throughout the day.
Encourage a Healthy Diet
Exercise will relax your child, but eating well will help her feel better too. Children with CP are especially at risk for having poor nutrition because many have difficulty eating and swallowing. If you aren’t sure if your child is getting the right nutrition, work with a dietician or nutritionist to help you develop a meal plan that takes CP into account. If eating is difficult for your child because of problems with swallowing, have multiple smaller meals every day instead of three larger meals. This makes it easier on your child.
Create a Calming Bedtime Routine
Having a routine before going to sleep is a great strategy for someone of any age, regardless of medical conditions. A routine gets you into the mood for sleep and over time your mind and body adjusts and starts to get sleepy as you go through the routine. For a child struggling to sleep because of CP this is especially important as is having that routine be calming.
As part of the routine, restrict your child’s use of anything stimulating for a couple of hours before bed. This includes video games and other electronic devices. Replace these with reading a book together. Other elements of a relaxing bed time routine may include a hot bath, slow stretching exercises, or time spent together, just quietly talking.
Make the Bed Comfortable
A child with CP has more trouble than most children getting comfortable in any setting, including bed. If your child is seriously disabled, speak with your doctor or physical therapist to find out what body position is most comfortable. Use pillows and comfortable bedding to help reinforce the position and make the bed more comfortable. Keep the temperature in the bedroom cool and turn off all lights before bed.
Sleeping well is important for your child’s health, but it may be a struggle for him. There are many steps you can take to help him sleep better, but if these measures still don’t work, speak to your doctor. There may be another underlying medical problem that is preventing your child from sleeping.