We all know how a poor night’s sleep can affect us the following day, with lack of concentration and maybe a tetchy take on life. For many people with disabilities, disrupted sleep is part of life, a nightly occurrence that takes a heavy toll on the individual and usually on family members too.
When occupational therapist Vicky Slingsby, staff member at Livability Victoria School, heard about the Sleep Right accreditation programme, she signed up for the training course. ‘Sleep often presents as a factor impacting the school day for our students,’ says Vicky, who mainly works with a post-16 years cohort. ‘Improving the quality and quantity of sleep can be very beneficial but access to sleep therapy is very patchy around the country, and families often can’t find help.’
Sleep problems and disability are linked, research suggests, as some disabilities inhibit the production of melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’. Other factors, like the necessity of a feed during the night, can contribute too.
The training course introduced tools and strategies to help the individual and family members to improve sleep. ‘Keeping a sleep diary is a recommended first step, for a couple of weeks ideally,’ Vicky explains. ‘Importantly, this gives families a sense of where to start. If you’re already exhausted by being up with your young person, you need to know you can start with the basics.’
Other factors to look at include the environment where the young person is sleeping; establishing a structured and familiar bedtime routine; using devices such as ‘lumie clocks’ which wake a sleeper up gradually with a sunrise-like effect, and eating foods which boost melatonin production, such as fruits and grains. Having a strategy to reduce use of electronic screens is vital too, because the blue light emitted sharply depletes melatonin in the body.
Victoria School has now won Sleep Right accreditation and Vicky has begun sleep therapy with three students and families. ‘The great thing about this is it gives options,’ she says. ‘You can try something out but swap to a different tactic if needed, or give an approach some time, or a second try. I hope it can really help some of our young people and their ability to learn and engage with their education in the school day.’