Hi everyone. Almost every year, my final post in the #AtoZChallenge is about sleep or “ZZZ”. This year is no different.
Sleep problems can affect anyone, disabled or not. However, sleep disorders, including sleep apnea (sleep-related breathing disorder) and insomnia, are more common among people with intellectual disabilities than among the general population. In fact, one review found that as many as 31% of adults with intellectual disability experienced more than one sleep problem. More severely intellectually disabled individuals, those with certain genetic syndromes and those with comorbid neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, are at particularly increased risk of having more sleep disturbances.
Sleep problems can cause physical and mental health problems in intellectually disabled people just like in the general population. However, they can also contribute to challenging behavior.
There are many factors associated with sleep problems in intellectually disabled people. For example, those with comorbid autism and/or ADHD are at increased risk of having sleep disturbances. Those with certain genetic syndromes, too, may experience certain sleep disorders. I mentioned sleep apnea already in my post on Down Syndrome. People with Smith-Magenis Syndrome, on the other hand, often experience an inverted circadian rhythm.
Environmental factors also need to be considered. For instance, a care home may not be ideal for people with intellectual disabilities to sleep properly due to for example night staff checking on them frequently. This does not happen here. What happens here rather frequently is the reverse, staff leaving clients to “rest” in a sensory room or their bedroom during the day.
The management of sleep disorders in people with intellectual disabilities is somewhat similar to that in the general population. However, more care should be taken to rule out medical conditions such as epilepsy or sleep apnea as the cause for poor sleep. The only medication which is somewhat effective for sleep issues in intellectually disabled people, is melatonin.
Now it’s 10PM and I’m ready for bed myself, I guess.