Sleep is as vital to our health as food and water, yet there is still little support freely available for families who hit crisis point. I made the decision for the Children's Sleep Charity's work to be filmed for Panorama in the hope that it will help to raise awareness about the impact of sleep deprivation on not only children and young people but also on their families. The BBC crew arrived to meet us moving into our new office, not the most glamorous of tasks! They also followed Claire and Carol, two of our sleep practitioners as they delivered a sleep clinic in Doncaster.
Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group have bought into our services and every family in the town with a child age 12 months upwards can access our support services. This is our vision for the rest of the country, sleep support should be readily available and free within community settings. Claire and Carol work across the town to ensure that our service is easy to access, often setting up clinics in local children's centres or schools. In order to offer our support in the harder to reach areas we have even been known to get on the health bus and drive out to more rural communities across the town.
Our work in Doncaster started very gradually over 3 years ago when we were awarded £5,000 and demonstrated that we were able to make significant changes to family life by supporting children to get a good night's sleep. A cost analysis was performed of one family that we supported and it is estimated that our support saved the public purse over £16,000. Often the cost of sleep deprivation is not recognised yet can be enormous in terms of both physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the whole family.
Anybody who has ever experienced a bad night's sleep will know that the impact of sleep deprivation is fairly sudden. Feeling tired can lead you to be more irritable, be tearful and feel down. Many of the parents that access our service have been chronically sleep deprived for years and are desperate for support. Sleep deprivation also significantly hinders children being able to meet their full potential. A child who has not had sufficient sleep will find it more difficult to concentrate in school, their ability to retain information will be hampered and their day time behaviour is likely to be affected.
As well as being a health issue, sleep deprivation also impacts on education. When children and young people are sleep deprived they are unable to meet their full potential. Sleep deprivation has been proven to impair cognitive functioning. We have recently had the pleasure of working with a number of secondary schools across Yorkshire as part of a Paul Hamlyn Foundation funded project including Honley High School who are to be featured in Panorama. Findings were consistent throughout the schools and indicated that young people are struggling with sleep issues with no access to support.
Robust evidence exists to demonstrate that sleep plays a fundamental role in supporting well-being. Sleep needs to be embedded in the school curriculum and healthcare professionals need training around supporting families with sleep issues. At the moment Doncaster is leading the way in terms of sleep support, I hope that other Commissioners will follow suit and the documentary will see us inundated with enquiries around setting up services nationally.
For more information on our training, support and services please visit www.thechildrenssleepcharity.org.uk