There is a way to give children nearly two-and-a-half hours of extra sleep every night – and Vicky Dawson is keen to let others in on the secret.
The Children’s Sleep Charity was set up in 2012 in Tickhill by Vicky, who is the organisation’s CEO.
Aged 44, she has two children and is originally from Barnsley but moved to Doncaster six-and-a-half years ago.
They help around 300 children a year on a one-to-one basis but nationally reach around 30,000.
Vicky said: “We offer a behavioural approach to sleep. There is very little support and in help in the UK for children with sleep issues. We train sleep practitioners and professionals come from all over for our three-day course.”
It was the first charity of its kind in the country. First an assessment is made of a child’s sleeping pattern, before a behavioural model is implemented – this varies from child to child, but can work as quickly as overnight, as it did with a teenager who sought help.
The teen slept through the night for the first time in 14 years. Most children have a two-week plan and a five to six week timeframe for discharge.
A study found children slept an extra 2.4 hours a night when they followed the behavioural method.
“The way we live has changed, children have screens before bed, this should be avoided as it suppresses melatonin,” said Vicky.
“Bedrooms can be too stimulating which is not ideal for a good night’s sleep.”
The work the charity does with children can make a real difference for families struggling with a sleepless child.
“A lot of families we work with have been sleep-deprived for years. It can be life-changing when we work with them. The whole family can change, a better work life, family relations and of course the child’s behaviour.”
One example of the help that they do is five-year-old William who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
He had suffered with sleep issues since being a baby and his mum had become desperate for help.
She attended a sleep workshop the charity ran at a cost of £32.50. She left the workshop feeling empowered to make changes immediately and within one week William’s sleeping had greatly improved.
Within two weeks he was sleeping through the night for the first time in his life.
His mum reported the following improvements with William – he was calmer during the day and his teaching assistant support at school had been reduced as he was able to concentrate more easily.
William’s mum, meanwhile, felt better in herself. She caught fewer colds, and was able to stop taking antidepressants. Many of her symptoms, she realised, were simply down to tiredness.
Last year the charity won a Doncaster Business Award from the town’s Chamber of Commerce.
“It completely surprised and shocked us, we were up against some really inspirational charities,” said Vicky.
“We won four national awards in 2018 but the chamber one was the most special to us. It proved that what we were doing in the town was being recognised.”
The charity was part of a campaign in Westminster in 2017, that aims to ensure sleep support is available for children all over the UK – presently, it is dependent on where the child lives, a state of affairs described as a ‘postcode lottery’.
Their campaign was backed by local MPs Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) and Clive Betts (Sheffield South East).
In 2019 the charity is getting involved in a research project taking place in Canada, hoped to expand the knowledge around children’s sleep issues.
The charity relies on donations – visit https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/thechildrenssleepcharity for details.