Living with Cerebral Palsy: Sleep

Cerebral palsy can cause physical and psychological issues that negatively affect a child’s ability to sleep. Sleep allows the body to rest and recharge, but sleep disruptions can lead to other health problems down the line. Medical treatments are available to help children with cerebral palsy to get a good night’s sleep. Medications, adjustable beds and weighted blankets are all prescribed by physicians to treat sleeping disorders.

Sleep Problems Caused By Cerebral Palsy

Studies have shown that between 23% and 46% of children with cerebral palsy have difficulty sleeping. The physical and neurological symptoms caused by cerebral palsy can make it hard for children to get a good night’s rest.

Your child may have issues sleeping if they suffer from:  

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder: Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) is a digestive disorder that makes it difficult to swallow. It causes a sore throat and acid reflux, which can flare up at night.
  • Physical Pain: Muscle spasms and physical pain are common symptoms of cerebral palsy. Pain can prevent children with cerebral palsy from getting rest. Muscle spasms caused by the condition may prevent children from sleeping in a comfortable position at night.
  • Seizures: Seizures are a serious health issue that is associated with cerebral palsy. Seizures are often caused by certain triggers. In some children, a lack of sleep may trigger a seizure. Seizures can cause irregular sleeping patterns as well.
  • Drooling: Children with cerebral palsy often have difficulty controlling their chewing and swallowing. Because of this, they are much more likely to have problems with drooling. Excessive drooling can cause children to choke on saliva or have issues breathing while they sleep.
  • Respiratory Problems: Respiratory problems caused by cerebral palsy can make breathing at night difficult. This can cause children to wake in the middle of sleep.
  • Constipation: Many children with cerebral palsy have challenges with constipation due to limited mobility, reduced fluid intake, malnutrition and/or weak stomach muscles. Constipation can be painful and wake sleeping children.

Specific Challenges and Solutions

Children with cerebral palsy are often more sensitive to sound, light and texture. These sensitivities can disrupt their sleep. Noises such as television audio or home appliances can make it harder for children with cerebral palsy to fall or stay asleep.

If your child has problems sleeping due to cerebral palsy, the following might help:

  • Adhering to a daily schedule that includes a bedtime, mealtimes and restroom visits
  • Having a dedicated quiet time in the house to ease sensitivities
  • Keeping a sleep diary to help evaluate night conditions
  • Sleep medication, including light sedatives

Sleep challenges often depend on how serious a the child’s condition is. Children with mild cerebral palsy may only face minor sleep problems, while children with severe cerebral palsy may find it extremely difficult to sleep at night.

There are several medical treatments and adaptive solutions to help children with cerebral palsy sleep better. These solutions include sleep medications, adjustable beds and weighted blankets.

Sleep Medications for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Children with cerebral palsy may be prescribed medications to help with their condition.

Common medications include:

  • Melatonin: Melatonin is made naturally in the body by the pineal gland. Generally, the body produces more melatonin at night. Melatonin supplements are often prescribed when someone has trouble falling or staying asleep. Side effects of melatonin supplements include anxiety, headaches and stomach discomfort.
  • Baclofen: Baclofen is a medication which treats muscle spasticity. If your child’s sleep problems are caused by muscle tension, baclofen may help. Baclofen side effects include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness and nausea.
  • Lubiprostone: Lubiprostone is a medication which treats constipation. This can help ease the stomach pains that wake a child at night. Side effects of Lubiprostone include nausea, diarrhea and headaches.

Adjustable Beds for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Adjustable beds can have their bed frames adjusted via remote control. This allows children with cerebral palsy to move their bed into more comfortable positions

Adjustable beds promote independent movement and help with pain from muscle stiffness and GERD. Parents interested in purchasing an adjustable bed for their child should talk to their medical provider or a cerebral palsy organization such as United Cerebral Palsy.

Weighted Blankets for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Weighted blankets have become popular for their ability to reduce stress and anxiety and provide a soothing sleep. Weighted blankets can ease spastic movements in children with cerebral palsy. Weighted blankets can weigh up to 15 pounds, which reduces uncontrollable movements.

People often experience a calming, hugging feeling when using the blanket. Many weighted blankets also offer deep pressure touch stimulation, which feels like a massage. This can cause the body to release serotonin naturally, causing a feeling of calm and happiness as the user drifts off to sleep.

Parents looking at weighted blankets should talk with their medical provider or chat with a national cerebral palsy organization about their options.

Improving Sleep in Children with Cerebral Palsy

When children do not get regular sleep, their health can suffer. It is important to talk to your health care provider about how you can help your child sleep so that their body can recharge at night.

In some cases, sleep treatments can be expensive. If your child’s case of cerebral palsy was caused by medical malpractice, your family may be eligible for a financial settlement. This money could help pay for some or all of your child’s sleep treatments, medications or adaptive equipment.

Author:Birth Injury Justice Center
Birth Injury Justice Center

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

Last modified: January 7, 2019

View 1 References
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4928749/