Better Sleep for Children with Cerebral Palsy

It’s common for children with cerebral palsy to have sleeping difficulties. In fact, an estimated one out of every five children with cerebral palsy have some kind of sleeping disorder. Sometimes it’s related to breathing problems, and sometimes it’s due spasticity issues.

In other instances, children have back pain related to scoliosis or muscular or spinal injuries related to the disability, and sometimes children who have trouble with visioncan’t identify that it’s still dark outside and that they should be sleeping. Any number of these factors can be significant enough for your child to wake up, to not get a good night of sleep, and to effect not just their own health, but the health of the family members around them.

However, there are a number of things you can do to help your child get a better night’s sleep and restful naps, including an exercise plan, a healthy diet, a set daily routine, and much more.

Exercise

Perhaps one of the best ways to get your child to sleep better is through exercise. Exercise with the aid of your child’s physical therapist improves balance and coordination, but also strengthens muscles. If your child has problems with spasticity, exercise can help your child increase muscle control.

If your child has problems with respiration, you may need to see a speech and language therapist to accompany the exercises, but generally, exercise promotes better breathing and in turn, better sleeping.

A few examples of exercises for children with cerebral palsy include:

  • Aquatic therapy
  • Range-of-motion exercises, including leg rotations, heel extensions, leg raises, trunk rotations, and hip flexions
  • Strength, balance, and coordination exercises
  • Daily stretching
  • Slow walking or slow wheeling for children in wheelchairs

Calming Routine

Establishing a calming routine before bedtime will greatly improve the chances of children sleeping better. Too many activities and too much stimulation prior to bedtime usually results in a difficult time in falling asleep and staying asleep.

An effective calming routine should always be consistent, and can include dinner, followed by a warm, calming bath, brushing teeth, story time, and then bed. Keep in mind that it takes time to see results, but children who understand what to expect each night have an easier time transitioning to sleep when compared to children who don’t have a set routine.

Find the Right Sleeping Position

Speak to a pediatric occupational therapist and physiologist about the optimal sleeping position for your child. You may also want to ask if there are any kind of accommodations that could be made to your child’s bed to help support him or her better during sleeping time.

Some children may have trouble breathing if they are flat on their back, so you may need get a bed that tilts up slightly so that they can breathe better. If your child has muscular or spinal pain, you may want to get a body pillow to put between his or her knees and around the torso for more support while sleeping. Your child’s therapists may also recommend a certain kind of mattress or certain kind of pillows.

Naps

While it sounds counter-intuitive that a child should sleep during the day to sleep better at night, some children might have sleeping disorders because they’re too exhausted at night. If your child takes an hour or two-hour-long nap at midday, he or she may be a little more relaxed when it comes to going to bed later in the evening.

Healthy Diet

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the majority of children with cerebral will experience problems with feeding and/or choking while swallowing. Therefore, they are at an increased chance of receiving inadequate nutrition, leading to poor growth and low weight. It’s important to ensure that children with cerebral palsy have access to a variety of healthy foods on a daily basis. Inadequate nutrition and a diet based on foods with empty calories can heighten the risk of developing sleeping issues.

In addition to feeding children with CP smaller, more frequent meals, experts suggest that parents should ensure there is a variety of the following foods in the child’s diet:

  • High-calorie fruits, such as mangos, bananas, and avocados
  • Healthy fats only, such as coconut oil and coconut milk
  • Leafy green vegetables, including spinach, kale, collards, broccoli rabe, and cabbage
  • Foods containing natural probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, and honey

Underlying Medical Issues

While the aforementioned tips may help children sleep better, if there is an underlying medical problem, it must be addressed first before other strategies are utilized. Reflux problmes, sleeping disorders (such as sleep apnea), and seizures are among a few of the many medical conditions that children with cerebral palsy may face, an in turn, sleep is greatly affected.

Your child should get a medical evaluation to determine what, if any, medical issues are contributing to sleeping problems. For example, physicians may administer a polysomnogram (PSG), which monitors a number of body functions while the child is sleeping. In turn, physicians can detect brain and eye movement, muscle activity, and breathing functions. 

Another medical procedure that helps physicians detect underlying medical issues is the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), which allows doctors to see how long it takes for the child to enter into the state of sleep after napping. 

If a medical issue is determined, treatment will depend upon the type condition.