Funding boost for research into sleep and ADHD

Experts at the University of Nottingham have been awarded £2.28 million to develop a digital sleep intervention to help children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Digital Sleep Support for Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (DISCA) aims to develop and evaluate a new digital sleep intervention for children with ADHD. The project is led by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with the University of Nottingham, University of Southampton, and Kings College London.

Professor David Daley from the School of Medicine at the University, in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute of Mental Health’s Centre for ADHD and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Across the Lifespan (CANDAL), and NIHR MindTech, have been awarded the funding from the National Institute for Health Research.

ADHD affects at least 250,000 children in the UK, with up t0 73% reporting sleep problems. Difficulty sleeping contributes to worse daytime behaviour, school performance, and quality of life. Yet practitioners working in ADHD clinics are taught little about sleep in their training, often prescribing melatonin; NHS melatonin costs for children have risen from £28 million to £39 million in the last five years.

While melatonin can be effective in some children, long-term side effects are unknown and alternatives to drugs can help sleep. A brief behavioural intervention delivered face-to-face by practitioners in Australia improved daytime behaviour and sleep in many children with ADHD, as well as parents’ quality of life. There are limited resources in the NHS to offer face-to-face support, so an alternative is needed.

On receiving the award, Professor Daley said: “Good quality sleep is so fundamental for health, this funding will help support the majority of parents of children with ADHD who do not currently benefit from good sleep.”

Professor David Daley

To support clinicians in identifying sleep problems in children with ADHD, DISCA researchers will first modify existing sleep screening tools to create one specific to ADHD. The University of Nottingham Health and E-Learning (HELM) team will work with clinicians to use an adapted questionnaire, develop online training, and help them better understand children’s sleep problems.

The DISCA team, with the support of NIHR MindTech, will work closely with families to build a digital sleep intervention for use by parents. Clinicians will carry out a small feasibility study of the intervention in ADHD clinics before going on to launch a large-scale randomised controlled trial (RCT). As well as measuring the benefits to children and their families, researchers will also assess the cost-effectiveness of it being made available in the NHS.

Throughout the DISCA study, researchers will involve professional users, children, and families to make sure that the design and testing is relevant and effective for a diverse range of families. Stakeholder engagement (professional bodies, parent support groups, NHS commissioners) will ensure NHS-wide rapid implementation of the sleep screening tool, practitioner training and digital intervention.

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