Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Good Night's Sleep: Improving Mobility in Children, One Night at a Time

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Good Night's Sleep: Improving Mobility in Children, One Night at a Time

Article excerpt

Good, restorative sleep and constant nighttime wake ups are a real problem for many parents of children with special needs. The children and their families suffer a lot from lack of sleep, and this sometimes stretches over many years.

Studies show (e.g. Quine, 1991) that those children with mental disabilities wake up more often at night, and need considerably more time to fall asleep again. Quine also found that 44% of children with Down syndrome, 71% of children with cerebral palsy, 57% of children with unspecific brain damage, and 83% of children with disabilities caused by accidents, prenatal developmental disorders, genetic, or metabolic disorders, suffer from sleep problems. Another study (e.g. Kotgal, 1994) found that children with cerebral palsy move considerably less during sleep and a high percentage have respiratory disturbances that they cannot self regulate.

Bodily restrictions and sleep disorders

Movement limitations can cause sleep disorders in children with cerebral movement disabilities. Spasticity, postural deformities, contractures, or respiratory problems have a negative influence on children's sleep. It is reported, for example, that adults who suffer from spasms often feel like they are falling. This is due to the relaxation of their muscles when falling asleep. Their brain receives too little information from the body about its position and the surface the body lies on. This leads to an irritating uncertainty in body perception, which hampers sleep. Another problem is that immobile children are barely able to reposition themselves. This, however, is crucial for a healthy and restorative sleep.

A healthy person turns quite frequently at night to avoid stressing one side of the skeletal apparatus. Lying in one position over a long time period may lead to pain, and in extreme cases, to pressure ulcers.

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Sleep disorders

To be able to treat a sleep disorder it must be recognized as such. The sleep requirement, however, varies for each child and must be viewed on an individual basis. When evaluating if sleep disorders are existent or not, experts try to draw on the subjective sensation of the participants. In general, it matters less how long a person sleeps, but how they feel in doing so. A child that lies in bed for 8 hours may still suffer from sleep disorders, when they awake in the morning feeling totally knocked out and unsatisfied. What counts here is not only the quantity, but rather the quality of sleep.

Sleep disorders are mainly divided into problems with falling asleep and problems sleeping through the night. It is remarkable when talking about children with disabilities, that they have bigger problems in sleeping through the night than with going to bed at night. …

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