Sleep disorders and their clinical significance in children with Down syndrome


  • North American usage: mental retardation

Professor Gregory Stores at North Gate House, 55 High Street, Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire, OX10 7HN, UK. E-mail:


Aim  Our aim was to review basic aspects of sleep disorders in children with Down syndrome in the light of present-day findings of such disorders in children in general, including other groups of children with developmental disabilities.

Methods  A literature search of adverse developmental effects of sleep disturbance, types of sleep disturbance in children with Down syndrome, their aetiology, including possible contributions of physical and psychiatric comorbidities and medication effects, principles of assessment and diagnosis, and treatment issues, was carried out.

Results  Sleep disturbance is particularly common in children with developmental disorders including Down syndrome. Although there are just three basic sleep problems (sleeplessness or insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, and parasomnias) there are many possible underlying causes (sleep disorders), the nature of which dictates the particular treatment required. In children with Down syndrome, in addition to the same influences in other children, various comorbid physical and psychiatric conditions are capable of disturbing sleep. Possible adverse medication effects also need to be considered.

Interpretation  Screening for sleep disorders and their causes should be routine; positive findings call for detailed diagnosis. Management should acknowledge the likely multifactorial aetiology of the sleep disorders in Down syndrome. Successful treatment can be expected to alleviate significantly the difficulties of both child and family.