Sleep problems in cerebral palsy are very common. In fact, children with cerebral palsy are five times more likely than children without cerebral palsy to have problems sleeping[1]. Despite these numbers, there is a lack of information about how to best assess and treat insomnia in individuals with CP.

Whenever possible it’s critical to identify and address the source of sleep disturbances in children with cerebral palsy. Sleep deprivation may lead to difficulties with learning, behavior and cognition. They also affect parents and their energy levels.[2] [3] [4]

Top Reasons for Sleep Problems in CP

  1. Pain or discomfort
  2. Heartburn/reflux
  3. Breathing difficulties/sleep apnea
  4. Inability to change positions
  5. Problems with sleep/wake cycles
  6. Seizures
  7. Abnormal sleep pattern movements
  8. Psychological factors (i.e. missing parents and night)
  9. Saliva aspiration
I recall when Maya was an infant feeling very discouraged, almost desperate for sleep and none of the new mothers could relate to the intensity and duration of these nighttime sleep problems.
Michele
Mom of a child with CP

Other Causes to Consider

  • Positioning while sleeping
  • Material of bedding (especially for those affected by sensory input)
  • Noises
  • Light (too much or not enough)
  • Temperature (too hot, too cold)

Addressing Sleep Disturbances

  • Speak to your child’s primary care doctor in order to determine what kind of referrals may be appropriate to determine the source of your child’s sleep problems.
  • Establish respite care- Parents of children with ongoing sleep disturbances may consider respite care to help relieve them of some of their overnight or daily caregiving responsibilities.
  • Meet with a sleep specialist- A doctor who diagnoses and helps to treat sleep disorders.
  • Medication– At this time current research does not clearly identify both safe and effective sleep medications for children with cerebral palsy. It’s important that you speak with your care team about potential options and side effects of experimental medications.[1]
We agreed it was time to forego some of our privacy and get evening and sometimes overnight respite care. It didn’t get our daughter more sleep, but it helped us have an extra set of hands when our energy was low.
Patricia
Mom of a child with CP

Alternative Solutions for Sleep

When looking for solutions to insomnia you will likely come across alternative suggestions. These options should be discussed with your medical team, especially where supplements are concerned and if the person with cerebral palsy is taking medications.

  • Melatonin (discuss with your medical team regarding dosing)
  • Weighted blankets
  • Essential oils *check with your medical team regarding oils you are using. For example, some oils when applied directly to the skin can disrupt hormone function or cause skin irritation.
  • Acupuncture

For more information, download our free cerebral palsy tool kit.

References
    1. Tanner K;, Noritz G;, Ayala L;, Byrne, R., Fehlings, D., Gehred, A., . . . Maitre, N. (2021, May). Assessments and interventions for sleep disorders in infants with or at high risk for cerebral palsy: A systematic review. Retrieved June 12, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33541756/
    2. Galland, B., Elder, D., & Taylor, B. (2012, December). Interventions with a sleep outcome for children with cerebral palsy or a post-traumatic brain injury: A systematic review. Retrieved June 12, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22609124/
    3. Mindell, J. A., Kuhn, B., Lewin, D. S., Meltzer, L. J., & Sadeh, A. (2006). Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children (Vol. 29). October, PA: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Review. doi:https://aasm.org/resources/practiceparameters/review_nightwakingschildren.pdf
    4. Weiss, T. (2021, February 27). Sleep issues and children with developmental disorders. Retrieved June 12, 2021, from https://www.disabled-world.com/health/neurology/sleepdisorders/cdd.php