For Families and Carers : Sleep problems in people with Down’s syndrome

Sleep problems in people with Down’s syndrome

Like all of us people with Down’s syndrome need a good night’s sleep to be able to function properly. A person with Down’s syndrome may not realise, or be able to tell you, they are suffering from poor or disturbed sleep. As a parent or supporter, it is good to be aware of some of the signs that may indicate a person has sleep problems. These can include Irritability, anxiety, over activity, aggression, impaired attention and daytime sleepiness.

What do we know about sleep problems in people with Down’s syndrome?

We know that around 50% of children with Down’s syndrome experience sleep problems. These may be behavioural in nature or have a physical cause such as obstructive sleep apnoea. This is where a person’s normal breathing is disrupted during sleep because the walls of the throat relax and narrow or block the airway.    Some children may have a complex mixture of behavioural and physical sleep problems.We know less about sleep problems in adults with Down’s syndrome. Sleep problems are generally more common in the population with learning disabilities with estimates ranging between 9% and 34%.  It is probably reasonable to assume that sleep problems are more common in adults with Down’s syndrome and that they are widely undiagnosed. As with children, the causes for sleep problems may be behavioural, physical or a mixture of both.We are talking to a researcher about setting up a research project looking at types of sleep problems in adults and how widespread they are. If the project gets off the ground, we will be posting on our website and social media asking for adults to take part.

What helps?

Some sleep problems can be improved with good sleep habits (sometimes called sleep hygiene). These are some examples of actions that may improve the person’s chances of a good night’s sleep:

  • a nightly routine at bedtime
  • a bedroom that is free of distractions (e.g. cut out any unwanted light or noise)
  • regular sleeping hours
  • regular exercise and activities
  • avoidance of caffeine and other stimulants in the evening
  • avoidance of exercise in the evening.

Some people have been helped to sleep by videos with a soundtrack of calming sounds. Here are some examples:

Nature Sounds Relaxation – Soothing Forest Birds 
Nature Sounds – Birds Singing- Waterfall
Relaxing Nature Sounds – Water Sounds-Bird Song

Some sleep problems may be more complex in nature and will require investigation and intervention. It is really important that you seek help if you think that a person with Down’s syndrome is experiencing sleep problems. Your first port of call should be your child’s Health Visitor or your GP. If appropriate, they will refer you on to other professionals with experience of sleep problems.

You should expect professionals to take your concerns seriously; the signs that you have noticed should not just be put down to the fact that the person has Down’s syndrome.

The following resources can be downloaded from DSA’s website:

Managing Sleep Problems in Children

Sleep Problems in adults with Down’s syndrome (for GPs)

Hard copies of the resources are available on request.

Other sources of support:

Sleep Solutions (Scope)

British Sleep Society

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