About 30% of children have a sleep disorder, but the rate is even higher in
children with special needs, an expert says.
This increased risk in children with special needs is likely related to
physical and behavioural differences, as well as side effects from medication,
said Dr Jennifer Accardo, director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic and Lab at the
Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Md.
Not all children with special needs who have sleep disturbances will be
diagnosed with a sleep disorder, but early detection of common signs is the key
to improving sleep. Parents know their child's sleep patterns best and can spot
sleep issues if they know what to look for.
Signs of sleep problems in school-age children with special needs include:
snoring; difficulty falling or staying asleep; sleepwalking, night terrors and
other nighttime activities; sleeping too much; and needing parents to be in the
room to fall asleep.
Sleep evaluations beneficial
"While a good night's sleep is important for all children, it is especially
critical for children with special needs," Accardo said in an institute news
release. "Parents can make small changes at home to help their child get a
better night's sleep and improve their performance in daytime activities,
therapies and social interactions."
Accardo offered tips to improve sleep for children with special needs:
- Make sleep a priority and develop a bedtime routine.
- Keep schedules consistent every day on both weekdays and weekends.
- Make the bedroom a restful place and have your child sleep in the same place
- Avoid caffeine.
- Put your child to bed when he or she is sleepy, but not yet fully
- Address anxiety, which is common in children with special needs.
- Take note of signs of sleep problems.
"If parents are concerned about their child's sleep patterns and behaviours,
they should consult with their paediatrician or a sleep expert," Accardo said.
"Sleep evaluations can be extremely beneficial in identifying causes and
ultimately improving sleep for the entire family."
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