“We can’t cope without sleep. It’s getting to a point where we can’t function. It could split the family up. It is a horrible, horrible thing – sleep deprivation. I think it’s like torture.”
Laura Moncrieff (Mum to three-year-old Keira)
At some point in their childhood most children will experience nightmares or find it hard to get to sleep. But for some children, sleep problems take over their lives and those of their families. Imagine if your child woke up ten times a night, put themselves at risk by sleepwalking through the house or refused to sleep for more then three hours at a time? For some families these scenarios are a crippling reality, threatening both their child’s development and the stability of the family unit. With exclusive access to Dr Cathy Hill at one of the UK’s leading centres for child sleep disorders, My Child Won’t Sleep follows three exhausted families over four months as they try out radical solutions in the hope it will give them their lives back.
Dr Cathy Hill is one of the UK’s leading child sleep disorder experts with over 10 years experience in paediatric sleep medicine. She runs the Southampton Child Sleep Disorder Service, a pioneering force into research and treatment for children and at the forefront of the UK’s sleep research community. The service is inundated with referrals and has hundreds of patients on a four month waiting list.
“When we see families for a consultation they are often fairly desperate. They’ve lost confidence in themselves in terms of managing the child. Fundamentally they’re exhausted.” Dr Cathy Hill
Three-year-old Keira Smith suffers from a variety of sleep problems which include sleepwalking, night terrors and multiple waking. She sleepwalks into her parent’s bedroom on a nightly basis and becomes distraught at bedtime. The stress of the situation has put her parents under huge strain and they are on the verge of splitting up. Desperate and exhausted, mum Laura takes Keira to see Dr Cathy Hill to find the root cause of her daughter’s unsettled behaviour. It’s a difficult journey which sees Laura admit to suffering previously from post-natal depression and the feelings of guilt she now has because of that. Dr Cathy also picks up on her need for more support from husband Ian and the confusing messages she is giving Keira by entering into a nightly bedtime negotiation. She prescribes a set of rules and a new routine to help settle Keira and to stop her sleepwalking. Laura returns home, determined to implement the new rules and hopefully save her relationship.
Until last year, eight-year-old Harry Salt was a normal, happy, healthy boy. However, just over nine months ago he began to randomly fall asleep during the day, for up to two hours at a time. These symptoms have also been accompanied by a loss of muscle control when he laughs and disturbed night time sleep where he wakes constantly, craving sweet food. He has begun to put on weight and wakes up aggressive and unreasonable.
“Harry was a very, very loving, very happy, very energetic young boy. He doesn’t talk to us as much as he used to. He shuts himself away almost as if he’s trying to deal with this on his own. Maybe he doesn’t realise what’s going on but we feel very sad that we’ve lost part of Harry. The most special part of Harry that we ever had.” Tracey Salt (Harry’s mum)
Dr Cathy examines home footage of Harry taken by his parents to understand more about how his body reacts during the day and his unsettled sleep at night. He then comes into the clinic for a detailed overnight investigation where he will be monitored for 18 hours. Sensors on his skin will pick up muscle and eye movements, as well as brain waves. From this information Dr Cathy will be able to determine exactly what Harry is suffering from and the treatment options open to his parents. With both Harry and his parents desperate for a diagnosis, they willingly take part in the overnight tests. Tracey and Nick hope they can regain their happy little boy.
For the last three years six-year-old Megan Hewett has slept for just three hours a night, regularly staying awake until at least 2am. Her behaviour at bedtime is extremely disruptive and she repeatedly leaves her room to goes downstairs. Mum Rachel has a nightly six hour battle with her daughter and often spends the entire evening returning Megan to her room. Rachel is suffering with stress related illnesses and has lost all confidence when dealing with her daughter as a result of her exhausting behaviour.
“I’m the parent. I should be able to get my child into bed, into a proper routine at night. I should be able to do that myself and it makes me feel almost useless. It gets to the point where I’ll sit downstairs absolutely exhausted and that’s when I’ll just start to cry because I’m tired and so exhausted and I’m fed up with the way it’s going. I’m desperately trying to change it but I can’t.” Rachel Hewett
Sleep therapist Mandy Gurney believes Megan to have one of the most extreme behavioural sleep disorders she has ever come across. After assessing her case she comes up with a radical four week treatment plan which begins with putting Megan to bed at midnight. As time goes on Rachel and husband Michael will gradually bring bedtime forward. If she sleeps through the night she will be rewarded with a treat for good behaviour. Rachel and husband Michael find the new routine difficult at first, initially having to entertain Megan for an extra five hours in the evening. However, they are determined to complete the new programme as their only alternative is to continue living their sleep deprived life.
Despite the varying problems their children suffer from, these parents all have one thing in common. Family life is being ripped apart by the disruptive sleep patterns of Harry, Megan and Keira. With one mother suffering stress related illnesses, a family on the brink of splitting up and two parents desperate for a diagnosis – each family are willing to do whatever it takes to regain a normal family life.
Monday, 8 June 2009, 9:00PM – 10:00PM