Sleeping issues in babies and toddlers with Down syndrome

Every parent and carer wants to help their baby get the quality sleep they need so their baby can thrive. Helping babies learn to sleep is important for their cognitive and physical development and will give them a better chance of continuing good sleep patterns as they grow.

Babies with Down syndrome can have difficulty when it comes to sleeping, mainly due to their predisposing medical factors. They can learn to overcome their sleep struggles though, it may take a little extra time and patience.

Recommended sleep for babies and toddlers

As babies and children grow the amount of sleep they need decreases and they develop sleep patterns as they learn the natural day-night rhythm and favour being asleep at night and awake during the day. Daytime naps can still be common in children up until 5 years, and can be from as little as 30mins to 3 or 4 hours. Every baby is unique, typical sleep patterns for babies and toddlers are:

  • Newborns (0-3 months) – 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months) – 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-3 years) – 11-14 hours

Why is it harder for babies with Down syndrome to sleep?

Babies with Down syndrome may find it harder to develop sleep patterns, get to sleep and stay asleep because their physical features (narrow upper airways, larger tongues and low muscle tone) can make them wake more frequently and make deeper sleep harder to come by.

They can develop obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), common in children with Down syndrome, which is a medical condition that involves breathing difficulties in children (and adults) when they are asleep. If your baby is diagnosed with OSA, your doctor or sleep physician will talk to you about treatment options.

If your baby has other medical problems it can make developing good sleep routines less of a priority, especially if they spend more time in hospital early in their life. This can affect and disrupt their sleep routine when they are home.

Some medications can also affect babies getting to sleep and remaining asleep.

The way babies and children with Down syndrome communicate and learn can affect their ability to develop good sleep habits.

Families, parents and carers of children with Down syndrome can also feel increased stress themselves, which can make it harder to establish good sleeping patterns.

Tips for helping babies with Down syndrome sleep better

You can help promote a better sleep routine for your baby, if you:

  • Establish a regular and consistent bedtime. This helps your baby understand when it’s time for sleep.
  • Only do quiet activities before bedtime, such as bathing or reading. Limit noise and dim the lighting.
  • Create a comfortable, quiet and calming sleep environment.

You can also try settling techniques such as leaving the room and going back for brief but regular checks until your baby is asleep. If this is too distressing, sit quietly on a chair in the bedroom until they are asleep.

If you can, try to share your baby’s bedtime routine with your partner or another family member.

When to seek help

If you’re having trouble, talk to your doctor or a Maternal and Child Health Nurse. It’s helpful to keep a record of any sleep issues and your child’s sleep patterns in a sleep diary. You may choose to video your baby sleeping, as this can be useful when discussing your baby’s sleep symptoms.

You can also find helpful information at:

Developed by the Department of Respiratory and Sleep, Queensland Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of consumers and carers.

Resource ID: FS038. Reviewed:  June 2021.

Disclaimer: This information has been produced by healthcare professionals as a guideline only and is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your child’s doctor or healthcare professionals. Information is updated regularly, so please check you are referring to the most recent version. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

Last updated: October 2023