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My child/family member with an intellectual disability sleeps poorly

Sleep problems often occur in people with an intellectual disability, but they often remain unrecognized. In most cases patients are unable to describe their sleep problem. The more serious their disability, the bigger the communication problem. In addition, the home and care environment of people with an intellectual disability is insufficiently familiar with sleeping disorders.

Both insomnia and excessive sleepiness occur in people with an intellectual disability. While insomnia may cause concern, sleeping too much is seldom associated with a sleep disorder. But a sleeping disorder may influence functioning and cause behavioral problems and fluctuating moods, also in people with an intellectual disability. There may also be consequences for their general physical and psychological wellbeing. Bad quality sleep could disturb growth and development even more in children with an intellectual disability.

The Center for Sleep Medicine at Kempenhaeghe has at its disposal specialized expertise and facilities to clarify the coherence between the intellectual disability, sleep problems and other problems (including epilepsy).

The brain of people with an intellectual disability displays other brain wave than normally gifted people. The more serious the intellectual disability, the harder it is to distinguish the difference between the various stages of sleep in the brain waves. Moreover, many people with an intellectual disability also suffer from epilepsy.

Epileptic seizures may coincide with the quality of sleep and complicate the analysis of the sleep registration of the intellectually disabled. At Kempenhaeghe, we have specialists trained in assessing EEG images, breathing and cardiac rhythm measurements and eye movements of people with an intellectual disability. Various specialists are involved in the patient: medical specialists, psychologists and behavioral therapists are always part of the medical team.

Moreover, in the Center for Residential Epilepsy Care, Kempenhaeghe builds on years of practical experience offering tailormade care and support for adults and children with an intellectual disability and epilepsy. Regularly, sleep problems in people with an intellectual disability turn out to be the result of how their days in their residential and daytime activities environment are organized. Advice on day and night rhythm, adapting daytime activities and sometimes their type of residence could be first steps on the road to a better sleep.