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Southampton Clinical Trials UnitNews

£2m funding for a new study to help children with ADHD sleep better

Published: 25 March 2022
Boy sleeping

Children with ADHD will be offered digital help for sleep problems in a new national study led by researchers in Southampton.

Researchers at the University of Southampton, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and NIHR Southampton Clinical Trials Unit have been awarded £2.28 million to help children with ADHD and their families.

Sleep loss is a common problem for many children with ADHD and can aggravate the symptoms of the condition. Knowledge about how to effectively treat these problems is limited.

The five-and-a-half-year study will provide resources and training for healthcare professionals to help them correctly identify sleep problems. It will also offer new online support to help children and their families.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects people’s behaviour. It can cause them to be restless, impulsive and find it hard to concentrate. Around 3-6% of school-age children are estimated to have it in the UK.

Children with ADHD often have trouble sleeping – almost three quarters find it hard to get to sleep at bedtime, wake in the night or wake up early in the morning - and losing sleep can make their ADHD symptoms worse. By helping them to sleep better, it's hoped this study could therefore improve their behaviour and ability to concentrate.

It will be led by Dr Cathy Hill, Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Sleep Medicine, and Prof Samuele Cortese, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, supported by the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit.

They will work closely with researchers in Southampton primary care with expertise in digital health interventions, colleagues in King’s College London, Newcastle University and the University of Nottingham, as well as Hampshire County Council and three major ADHD charities.

 

This study has the potential to greatly improve the lives of children with ADHD and their families. We hope that by educating parents, carers and health professionals on the best techniques to improve sleep, we can ensure these children get the help they need to sleep better.

Dr Cathy Hill - Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Sleep Medicine

There is currently no national guidance for health professionals on treating sleep problems in children with ADHD. Many are therefore unsure of the best way to treat it.

This often means they prescribe melatonin, a hormone which controls sleep patterns, as a ‘one size fits all’ treatment. However, melatonin does not always work, can have side effects and might not be the most effective treatment in the long term.

Prof Cortese explains: “This medication works quite well to induce sleep, but ultimately is not the most comprehensive way to address this problem. We also need to actively involve parents in the management of the sleep problems of their children.”

To address this need, the first part of the study will create an online screening tool and sleep programme for healthcare professionals, so they can diagnose sleep problems and identify the most effective way to treat them. Parents of children with ADHD will also help to develop the novel digital sleep help. This will ensure it is designed in a way that meets their needs, addresses their concerns and is practical to use.

Those children and their families who can benefit from the new digital help will then be invited to participate in the second part of the study.

Testing support designed by parents for parents

The researchers will then test to how well this new digital sleep intervention works in a large trial run by the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit. The study, due to open in March 2025, aims to recruit around 350 children aged 6-12 years with ADHD from across the UK. This will include hard-to-reach children, such as those living with foster carers.

Parents and carers of children taking part will access digital support to improve sleep over a period of three months.

Researchers will follow up at six months to see if there are lasting improvements to the child’s sleep, behaviour and ability to concentrate. They will also investigate the wider effects of better sleep on families, for example by allowing a parent to come off antidepressants or return to work.

The research is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Dr Cathy Hill said: “This study has the potential to greatly improve the lives of children with ADHD and their families.

“We hope that by educating parents, carers and health professionals on the best techniques to improve sleep, we can ensure these children get the help they need to sleep better.”

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