Small Charity, Big Impact: Introducing The Sleep Charity
Lisa Artis, Deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, talks about how the charity has grown, what it offers, and plans for the future.
Having experienced chronic sleep deprivation herself, and with the lack of support available, our CEO and founder, Vicki Dawson, decided to do something about it and in 2012 established ‘The Children’s Sleep Charity’.
Since it started, we have gone from strength to strength, supporting 30,000 families a year through our trained practitioners with our evidence-based behavioural approach to sleep issues – looking at what is causing sleep issues so that appropriate strategies can be put in place. We work in partnership with families to explore parenting styles and changes they feel comfortable in making. We work with children aged 12 months upwards – not before – and a lot of the work we do with new parents is about normalising infant sleep patterns.
We are able to offer one-to-one support, in certain parts of the country, where we have been commissioned by a local clinical commissioning group. Through these services, we are able to put parents in touch with a trained practitioner where they go through an assessment process and then a sleep programme is developed with strategies that might be helpful. Unfortunately, at the moment this is like a postcode lottery, something we are campaigning around as we would like to see sleep services available nationally for parents to access.
In 2019, the charity rebranded from The Children’s Sleep Charity to The Sleep Charity as we realised we were also helping parents to sleep better. In 2020, after years of working in partnership with not-for-profit organisation, The Sleep Council, the two joined forces under The Sleep Charity name to provide advice and support to empower the whole nation to sleep better.
In the past 12 months, we have met the challenge of COVID-19 head-on and developed a new online training hub so we could continue to support children and their parents who desperately needed sleep support, especially in these difficult and stressful times. Through our training hub, we have also been able to move our face-to-face training online for professionals. In just the past five months we’ve trained nearly 100 practitioners – some who work in the NHS, some in other health organisations, charities, or voluntary groups.
We have developed an Expert Advisory Board to help to shape the future of sleep support nationally and play a vital role around providing advice, challenge and scrutiny on our key issues and programmes to ensure that the information we put out is evidence-based, credible and of high quality. It is made up of 20 professionals whose expertise spans across sleep, sport science, education, nutrition, menopause, mental health, sleep research, primary care, public health, sensory processing, CBTi and medical sleep disorders.
In June, we were also awarded some funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and Coronavirus Mental Health Response Fund (administered by the charity, Mind, in partnership with the Mental Health Consortia). We used this to develop a Teen Sleep Hub in partnership with our Youth Advisory Panel. The online provision means young people can now access sleep support no matter where they are. It features sound knowledge and helpful advice to get a good quality night’s sleep, and for those who want to know a little bit more, the eBook ‘You and Your Sleep’ can be freely downloaded from any device. To date, we’ve had over 15,000 downloads of the eBook proving it’s a resource that is well needed.
Our new website went live at the end of 2020 and is full of expert sleep advice, support and helpful resources that people can access – whether that’s some simple top tips, assessing bedroom environments or wanting to know more about the impact of shift work on sleep. There are dedicated sections for children, adults, professionals and the workplace. There are children and adult advice sheets that can be printed out or downloaded to your phone so you can keep them as a reference. These are a great first step in looking at some of the reasons why you can’t sleep or why your child can’t.
Sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle – protecting us physically and mentally. Just one night of interrupted sleep negatively affects mood, attention span and cognitive ability. Chronic sleep debt can have a seriously damaging effect on our mental and physical health.
When you are sleep deprived it can affect every area of your life, even your capacity to parent. Parents tell us they feel isolated and lonely. But it’s important to know that sleep problems are incredibly common. Up to 40% of youngsters have a sleep issue – and that same percentage affects adults too. People often don’t recognise the knock-on effects of sleep deprivation. It has a huge impact on your mental health, your resilience, physical health and also your day-to-day functioning.
When children sleep well, it helps them to do better at school, allows them to react more quickly to situations, have a more developed memory, learn more effectively and solve problems. Sleep deprivation causes increased hyperactivity and other behavioural problems, as well as damaging physical and mental development. Poor sleep habits from an early age can lead to long term sleep problems.
Going forward we will continue to campaign to improve sleep support and access to high quality information, raise awareness of the value of a good night’s sleep and promote understanding around the complexities of sleep. We are lucky that we have some great people advocating the work we do – Shaun the Sheep is our sheepy sleep ambassador, TV presenter Zoe Salmon, GB Olympic Silver medallist Vicky Thornley, and Baroness Goudie.
We want everyone to share our vision that sleep is a vital component of health and wellbeing and that everyone living with sleep issues should have access to effective, consistent, evidence-based support.
We are committed to our mission that sleep is taken seriously across all age groups and we will never stop striving to achieve that – even a global pandemic will not stop us!