Sleep solution for troubled kids and exhausted parents

Dr Sohil Khan

For parents of children with brain disorders or visual impairment, nights can be long and frustrating, leading to even more difficult days as exhaustion takes hold.

But findings from an ongoing phase 2 clinical trial may have found a way of regulating the sleep patterns of these children and offering hope for families who regularly fray under
the tiredness and pressure.

The combined talents of the Griffith University, Mater Children’s Hospital and Mater Research Institute have been testing Melatonin, a drug that works with light and the body’s natural circadian rhythms, to turn around traditionally poor sleep patterns and sleep quality.

The drug is currently approved for use with the elderly, but Dr Sohil Khan from The Griffith Health Institute’s Molecular Basis of Disease program is hopeful the final trial
of the drug may see its use approved with children in coming years.

“What you have is a situation where these kids have developed terrible sleep cycles in which they don’t even begin to get tired till around 3am; their daytime behaviour is
consequently very disruptive and parents are exhausted,” said Dr Khan who is presenting his research at this year’s Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference 2013.

“By the time they’ve got to us, they’re usually desperate and the kids are having real difficulties, especially at school.

“The traditional methods of addressing these problems have been with drugs like Benzodiazepine and non-benzodiazepines hypno-sedatives which have a lot of sideeffects, are very difficult to withdraw from and provide a very poor quality of sleep.

A promising therapeutic option

“If the results from our current trial hold, we look like we may have a promising therapeutic option with improved sleep quality.”

The ultimate benefit for families is children who can interact with other children and play and behave within acceptable limits. Meanwhile parents can be more attentive to their
children’s needs and with each other.

The ongoing study has found improvements in school results, as well as physical and social functioning.

“The study doesn’t address the kids’ neurological issues or their vision impairment, but it helps them and their families work positively to overcome the sleep problems of their
child,” says Dr Khan.

The study is developing evidence-based reviews for the drug’s future use in partnership with the Cochrane Collaboration.