In the first few weeks after they are born your baby will sleep for around 16 hours or more each day, this will gradually reduce to about 13 hours by age 2 and continue to reduce as they get older. Initially, your baby will spend about an equal amount of time sleeping during the day and at night. This will change as your baby gets older so that less time is spent asleep during the day and most sleep occurs at night.
It’s fair to say though that sleep can be an issue for lots of parents of young children. In a way it is surprising that so many young babies and children do get into good night settling patterns as it is a complex process. Some babies with Down’s syndrome can find it difficult to settle to sleep and can be restless and wriggle about once asleep. We do know from research that proportionally more children with Down’s syndrome have sleep issues than children without Down’s syndrome.
There are several aspects of sleep that are important. The first is learning to settle and stay asleep in your bed for a length of time at night. The next is the quality of sleep you get, which is dependent on two main types of sleep – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-REM. REM sleep is used by the brain actively and is very important for learning. It is used by the brain and body to rest, to repair and rebuild cells and to strengthen your immune system. During non-REM sleep in children, growth is also promoted by the release of growth hormone.
Initially babies have a different sleep pattern and settle more quickly into REM sleep, which is the sleep in which we assimilate the information we are learning. So, it’s not surprising that babies need lots of that type of sleep. By the time you are one year old you will have pretty much an adult pattern with periods of REM and non-REM sleep that come in cycles through the night, approximately every 90 minutes. As you progress through childhood you need less sleep and children usually drop their daytime naps by 5 years of age and should be aiming for about 8-10 hours of sleep overnight.
Most parents can have difficulty around settling their child to sleep. The key to good settling is a clear sleep programme or good ‘sleep hygiene’, as professionals will refer to it. This involves making sure your baby/child has a secure and warm bed, where they feel safe, that they have had enough, but not too much, food before bedtime. There is often a routine of a relaxing bath, and/or massage, and then a short familiar routine of a story or music to settle. Parents too must feel secure about leaving their baby to settle, and sometimes this can be difficult if your child may have had a previous or on-going illness that makes you more wary of leaving them alone. It is important that your child learns to self soothe, re-settle themselves and not be dependent on you being there. We all, as a normal part of the sleep pattern, have short awakenings through the night, though some of us won’t even be aware of them. If your child has not learned to self soothe and settle then this short awakening will turn into a lengthy re-settling job for you, the very tired parent, and unfortunately re-enforces your child’s need for you to help.
Sleep issues in Children with Down’s syndrome
We know that around 50% of children with Down’s syndrome experience some difficulty sleeping which can be behaviour related but can also be due to a physical cause, and it is important that you get the right help if you think your child is experiencing sleep difficulties. Your first port of call should be your child’s health visitor or paediatrician; they can make a referral for your child to be assessed by professionals with experience of sleep issues. Sleep signs or difficulties you are concerned about should not just be put down to the fact that your child has Down’s syndrome. If you have worries or concerns about your child’s sleep and getting appropriate support for this, remember our Family Support team are here to help.
As with all information it’s easier to read about than to carry out the practical task, and that is why, if you are encountering problems, early support to achieve a good sleep pattern for your child is so important.
Some sleep issues can be improved with good sleep habits the links and information below can help you with establishing these; however, some sleep issues may be more complex and need investigation and possibly intervention. The sleep support services below are there for you to speak to someone about sleep concerns you have and they are able to offer support and advice on what you need to do.
If you would like to talk to someone about your baby’s sleep pattern, or would like to talk to another parent about sleeping and routines please contact the Family Support Service. We also have some resources about sleep that you can download below.