March is Sleep Awareness Month and on the 19 March, World Sleep Day is celebrated. The fact that we mark this globally shows the rising awareness of the importance of sleep for both our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

Issues with sleep are much more common than you might think. Reporting is varied, but it is estimated that between 8% and 34% of us suffer. And children and young adults with learning disabilities are even more likely to suffer as a result of inadequate sleep, with around 9.2% of people with learning disabilities considered to have ‘significant sleep disturbances’. (E. van de Wouw et al., 2012).

Autistic people take, on average, 11 minutes longer than neurotypical people to fall asleep and between 44% and 83% (Patzold et al, 1998; Richdale & Prior, 1995; Wiggs & Stores, 1996) are afflicted with sleep problems. Children with ADHD have higher rates of daytime sleepiness than those without (Cortese et al., 2006). 50% have disordered breathing during sleep, compared to 22% of those without ADHD. (Golan et al, 2004).

There are a huge number of reasons for this including health conditions, anxiety, side effects of medication, sight and hearing impairments and a greater likelihood to suffer from sleep apnoea. However, in addition to medical factors, families frequently claim that ‘challenging behaviour’ is the primary cause of sleep issues.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase challenging behaviours, limit educational outcomes and lead to obesity (DfE, 2010). Sleep difficulties have also been linked to higher levels of stress for the whole family, resulting in increased pressure on mental health services.

At Seashell, we believe we can make a huge difference to the lives of families with children and young people with disabilities who are experiencing sleep problems. We do this by focusing on behaviours, which stops the cycle of impaired sleep.

We’ve recently worked with The Sleep Charity – who trained three members of our team – on a programme of sleep support to families, offering one to one clinics, workshops and training courses. In March, the National Lottery’s Awards For All Community Fund showed their belief in this important work, by donating £10,000, of which £5,000 will fund our sleep programme. We are incredibly grateful to them for this. The families that we work with benefit hugely. In fact, we have seen families go from saying they feel depressed, isolated and lonely in regards to sleep to confident, positive and supported, which we are incredibly proud of.

Parent Case Study

We recently worked with Sarah’s* Mum in a one to one clinic. Afterwards, she said ‘The past week I have slept through the night every night without having to get up and be caring to my child needs, this is the first time in 11 years, yes 11 years! Jenny listened to me saying I’m exhausted and I feel like I had exhausted all my options with my daughter – she told me she would help me, and that she has.  I was given some strategies to aim for with my daughter and wow the advice I have been given has turned mine and my daughter’s life around. A whole week’s sleep! I am honestly so thankful for the advice and the support I was given afterwards help me and my daughter. A fantastic service from Jenny and her team, thank you’.

*Name changed

If you’d like more information about our Sleep Support, or any of the specialist training, assessment or consultancy we provide, check out our Events or contact our Sensory Team here.