Intensive behavioural intervention to improve sleep in vulnerable children

Sheffield Children’s NHS Trust

  • Led by Sheffield Children’s NHS Trust, in partnership with Sheffield City Council (Children, Young People and Families).
  • Aimed to help improve the physical and mental health of sleep-deprived families.  
  • An intensive behavioural intervention was delivered to families of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an eating disorder or looked after children, led by trained sleep practitioners.

When a child has difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep, it results in sleep deprivation, not only for the child concerned but often for other family members. The impact of exhaustion on health is wide-ranging in terms of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Groups of vulnerable children that are frequently identified as having sleep disturbance are fostered and adopted ‘looked after’ children, and children with eating disorders or neurodevelopment disorders such as ADHD.

Sleep difficulties for many disabled and vulnerable children are due to the way parents address and manage their child’s sleep. Evidence from sleep clinics delivered in the voluntary sector has shown that an intensive two-week behavioural intervention can be highly effective.

This project introduced a behavioural intervention for children with sleep difficulties accessing health services via Sheffield Children’s NHS Trust. Practitioners received sleep practitioner training from The Children’s Sleep Charity, and then gave bespoke support to parents and carers, including information provision, group workshops and one-to-one support in a sleep clinic.

The project has been successful in raising awareness of sleep deprivation in children and their families, and demonstrating how a behavioural intervention can empower parents to help their children to sleep. 

Early analysis of results has indicated that the intervention has had a significant impact on families, particularly on the number of hours slept at night and on wellbeing. In addition, the project has been a catalyst to building a model for provision of sleep support within Sheffield city and, as a result, there is now a drive to embed this within services. These results are generalisable and the model could potentially be adopted nationwide.

Contact information

For more information about this project, please contact Professor Heather Elphick, Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

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