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Parents get to see daughter smile again after 18 months of sleep struggles

Smiling girl with brown hair in modern children's hospital waiting room
12 February 2019

14 year-old Stephanie Wealthall received treatment at Sheffield Children’s after more than a year of getting just three to four hours sleep each night.

With thanks to a specialist sleep nurse from Sheffield Children’s Sleep Team, and the perseverance of her family, Stephanie is back to her usual bright self and benefits from at least seven hours of sleep each night.

When Stephanie was 12 years old she was referred to the Sleep Team by a paediatrician after the family desperately tried to find the cause of her sleepless nights. Despite achieving well at school, Stephanie would constantly worry about homework and academic pressure. It’s thought that this anxiety, alongside a diagnosis from the Sleep Team of low iron and restless leg syndrome, was the cause of Stephanie’s sleep difficulties.

Sara, Stephanie’s mum, said: “We were all exhausted and Stephanie was desperate to be able to sleep again. She was like a different person. She had sunken eyes and the colour was gone from her cheeks.”

Specialist sleep nurse Janine, worked with the family to help get to the root of Stephanie’s sleep problems. Stephanie had previously found medication unsuccessful; one prescription had made her so sleepy she couldn’t get up for school the following morning.

The service is one of many specialist services run by Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, which runs a comprehensive range of services for children across the region and beyond. Stephanie’s parents had already given her a routine that included no caffeine, reading before bed, stopping using technology at 8pm (leaving her phone downstairs) and having a bedtime of 10pm. The hospital provided her with a sleep tracking watch that showed she was getting an average of between three to four hours each night. After many consultations with Janine and the right medication type and dose recommended, Stephanie was finally able to sleep through the night.

Stephanie said: “We didn’t know what it was at first – but it was a combination of things. The move from primary to secondary school was hard, especially the amount of homework. My friends were fine, it was just me.”

The family benefited from a combination of hospital visits and telephone consultations with specialist sleep nurse, Janine. Janine would keep in touch regularly to review Stephanie’s progress and to suggest new methods to try. Some of the changes made included trying bright light therapy, making Stephanie’s bedtime later, finding the right medication and treating Stephanie’s iron deficiency. These followed the methods already in effect from Stephanie’s parents, such as relaxation techniques, dietary changes, less screen time and even hypnotherapy.

Stephanie would be constantly exhausted and struggle to keep up with school work. As the move from primary school to secondary school brought with it many stresses, more homework and more pressure, Stephanie’s anxieties would mean that on Sundays before school she would often get no sleep at all. Her teachers would regularly show concern at the sight of her pallid appearance and visible tiredness.

Stephanie’s sleep was also affecting her parents who would both be kept awake with worry. Lack of sleep can have detrimental effects on whole families as the impact of exhaustion on health is wide-ranging and affects physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Stephanie said: “I managed to get through the day but was tired. I couldn’t even sleep when I got home from school, but I don’t need any sleep medication anymore. I don’t go on my phone after eight at night and I always read before bed. It’s so much easier to focus now”.

Stephanie’s parents are over the moon that she now gets enough sleep to be herself again. Mum, Sara, said: “We’ve got our daughter back”.

Watch Stephanie, along with Professor Elphick and Ruth Kingshott from our Sleep Team, on Sky News and Sky Kids FYI programme.

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