Ultimate Guide to Sleep Positioning for Kids with Cerebral palsy

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For your child with cerebral palsy, it might be difficult for them to find a comfortable position for sleep.  Many children do not yet have the motor abilities to roll to one side, move arms and legs well.  This can often lead to more wake ups at night due to soreness, discomfort, and pain.

To help your child, it’s important to consider their specific needs when it comes to sleep position.  Sometimes, a simple adjustment can make a big impact for the rest of the night.  And, there might be some additional tools that can help your child maintain better sleep. Here’s what to look out for so your child can have a restful and comfortable night’s sleep

Make sure your child is comfortable before they even get into bed

The best way to get ahead of sleep issues is to make sure that all your child’s needs are addressed before bedtime.  For a disabled child, this could mean several things.  But as they always say – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

First it is strongly recommended to supplement with magnesium and calcium.  If your child is spastic, magnesium will help to ease muscle cramps, and will keep them more relaxed at bedtime.  Calcium is good for maintaining melatonin levels through the night.  In addition to supplementing, you can also feed your child more sleep healthy foods that include these essential minerals.

And, there’s a bonus! Magnesium can be incredibly helpful for alleviating constipation, which many kids with Cerebral palsy struggle with as well.

In addition, include relaxing activities in your child’s bedtime routine, like warm baths with epsom salt and massage. Especially for tight and spastic muscles, these can help your child feel as relaxed as possible at the beginning of the night.

Make sure that you have the right mattress

It might sound contradictory to a comfortable sleeping space, but many disabled kids actually do better with a slightly firmer mattress. If a mattress is too soft, it might actually contribute to structural problems like hip dysplasia, scoliosis and more. All of these can be quite uncomfortable or even painful.

Try to find a thinner, firmer mattress like a cotton futon. If you’re not quite in the market for a new mattress, you can put a board under your child’s current mattress to firm it up a bit. Some families find a firmer mattress with a bit of memory foam can also be more comfortable for their child.

Check the angle of your child’s bed

If your child struggles with reflux or secretions, these can be big time sleep disruptors. To get ahead of this, angling your child’s mattress slightly can alleviate the discomfort. In addition, it can help to give parents peace of mind that their child can safely sleep without worrying about extreme coughing or choking.

For some children with Cerebral palsy, they may have a history of stroke or hemorrhage. Or, your child might have a shunt to control intracranial pressure. In these cases, sleeping on a slightly angled bed can help with blood pressure surges. When these kids sleep flat, these surges can be intense and cause more middle of the night wakings.

To angle your child’s mattress, you can simply wedge something under to angle your child’s head slightly. If your child is in a crib or has a bed frame, you can wedge something under the feet of the bed to get the same angle. And, a little goes a long way! Even just a couple inches can go a long way.

Use the necessary positioning tools for your child with Cerebral palsy

Especially for children who are spastic or rigid, positioning tools can be helpful to relieve discomfort. In addition, these can help give parents the reassurance their child will stay in a safe position. More often than not, the most comfortable sleeping positions for kids with CP.

To assure your child stays in this position, parents can use different props and pillows. For stomach sleepers, bringing your child off the mattress a bit can alleviate contractions around the hip joint. You can have your child sleep on a half moon pillow to safely position your child’s hips.

For side sleepers, a triangle pillow support can secure positioning better. The half moon pillow can also be used for older, side sleepers. In addition, there are many other body pillows that can be easily adjusted to what your child needs.

If your child tends to drool or have a lot of secretions through the night, their mattress might get very wet and cause wake ups at night. To remedy this, we recommend putting a super absorbent dish mat under the mattress sheet to quickly absorb any liquids so they don’t pool.

IMPORTANT: when it comes to sleep positioning, it is vital that you follow the Safe Sleep Guidelines if your child is under the age of 12 months and/or not yet rolling.  Use this helpful guide to make sure that all the right things are in place.

During the day, incorporate reflex integration activities

One of the most common issues kids with cerebral palsy struggle with when sleeping is reflexive movements that startle them awake. Unfortunately, when it happens at night there’s only so much we can do in the moment. But, working on these things during the day can help parents get ahead of the startles in the middle of the night.

The best way to work on these reflexive movements is to give your child balance stimulation during the day. This can include rolling practice, and tummy time on the floor. In addition, you can put your child on a big pillow or couch cushion and move them left, right, back, forth, up, down, spin in place. If you have a bigger child, a disc swing or other form of sensory swing can be helpful.

Sometimes, these startles happen because of unexpected sounds in the environment. Making sounds throughout the day can be a good way to get your child’s brain ready for those sudden sounds at night, too!

What if my child with Cerebral palsy still wakes up at night?

Some of these suggestions will almost immediately give you results and help your child settle more easily at night. However, some of these things might take a bit longer to see improvements.

In the meantime, if your child does wake at night it is okay to pick them up, change positions, help them clear their secretions, etc. For a child like yours, they are going to still have difficulty adjusting their body and finding a more comfortable position. If you need to facilitate, that’s okay! Just try to keep things business like and get your child back into bed as quickly as possible.

If your child is still struggling and they’ve been up for a while, repeating massages or another relaxing activity can help to reset the brain. By repeating 1-2 activities from your child’s bedtime routine, the brain should pick up on the hint — it’s time to go to sleep!

What else should I consider when helping my child with Cerebral palsy sleep?

When it comes to kids with any disability, cerebral palsy included, there are many factors when it comes to a great night’s sleep. Getting the right positioning, proper routine, and good nutrition has the potential of helping your child leaps and bounds.

But, if your child is struggling to settle on their own, encouraging independence in sleep can help your child with connecting sleep cycles, resettling, and more. This is a process, and should be done gradually so that your child feels successful and wins!