Most parents expect the odd sleepness night when they have children, but for Jacqui and Julian Wolstenholme, blissful hours of uninterrupted slumber had become a distant memory.
The couple, who share four-year-old twins Jessica and Jasmine, reached breaking point due to their daughters waking up to 40 times a night.
From the age of three months old the little girls hardly ever slept, making it impossible for Jacqui to return to her graphic design job after 12 months of maternity leave and difficult for Julian to hold down his employment.
But after enrolling in a sleep clinic at their local hospital, the exhausted parents have developed a new strict bedtime regime which has transformed their lives.
Jacqui and Julian Wolstenholme, who share four-year-old twins Jessica and Jasmine (pictured as babies), battled with sleepness nights for years
According to NHS England, the ‘pioneering’ Sleep Service scheme at Sheffield Children’s Hospital has led to youngsters gaining an extra 2.4 hours sleep per night.
The time it takes them to fall asleep also dropped from more than two hours to just over 30 minutes.
For Julian and Jacqui, nurses helped them develop a personalised bedtime routine for the girls which they stick to every day.
Speaking about the restless nights they endured, Jacqui told BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: ‘They were waking up anything from 10 to 40 times a night – and that’s no exaggeration.
From the age of three months old the little girls hardly ever slept, making it impossible for Jacqui to return to her graphic design job after 12 months of maternity leave
‘I would have one in bed with me and the other one would be with Julian in another bedroom. He was trying to settle one, I was trying to settle the other.’
She added: ‘My husband was having trouble holding down his job… just through sheer exhaustion.’
Jacqui explained how the twins suffered with chronic recurrent illnesses and repeated hospital admissions in their younger years, which they found ‘pretty tough’.
To help them get ready for sleep, Jacqui said they dim the lights downstairs an hour before bed and switch off the TV, radio and any other ‘screens’.
Jacqui explained how the twins suffered with chronic recurrent illnesses and repeated hospital admissions in their younger years, which they found ‘pretty tough’
‘We do colouring, drawing, building games, anything that involves hand-eye coordination,’ she explained.
‘Then, they go upstairs for a bath and straight into the bedroom.’
Jacqui said they stick to the same routine rigidly, even down to using identical wording when saying goodnight.
Admitting she doesn’t like talking about the days ‘prior to sleep’, Jacqui said nodding off and sleeping through is still not something that comes naturally to her daughters, but on a good night they’ll go 12 hours without waking up.
The scheme in Sheffield now helps 800 children in the city every year. The pilot involving 40 families was launched by Professor Heather Elphick in collaboration with NHS England and the local council.
Prof Elphick believes the UK is ‘in the midst of a hidden public health crisis when it comes to sleep’.
Jacqui said they now stick to the same bedtime routine rigidly, even down to using identical wording when saying goodnight
The practitioners at Sheffield Children’s Hospital were trained by members of the nationwide Children’s Sleep Charity, which takes a behavioural approach towards understanding why young people struggle with sleep.
‘We are inundated with families all across the country who are at crisis point quite often because of sleep deprivation,’ its CEO and founder Vicki Dawson told the BBC programme.
‘We’ve got such limited resources to be able to support these families.’
Prof Elphick believes the UK is ‘in the midst of a hidden public health crisis when it comes to sleep’
Speaking to FEMAIL, Vicki explained that often there’s more than one reason why a child is struggling to sleep.
‘It can be sensory issues, room temperature, diet, body clock issues. It’s worth trying to work out what might be causing it before you apply a routine,’ she said.
‘As a charity we believe that every family should be able to access evidence-based sleep clinics free of charge. Unfortunately it’s a postcode lottery at the moment.
Top tips for helping your child get off to sleep
Vicki Dawson is CEO and founder of The Children’s Sleep Charity
Vicki said there are some elements of a bedtime routine that will help a child feel more inclined to sleep:
Dim the lights: this helps stimulate melatonin (the sleep hormone). Closing the curtains can help at the moment when it’s light at night.
Avoid TV or any screen activities: this can interfere with the melatonin production, and they are also very stimulating activities.
Engage in hand-eye coordination activities: Make sure it’s something the child is interested in – jigsaws, crafts, reading, colouring in, model making, building bricks and Lego are all good options.
Try sleep inducing foods: the research around these is still inconclusive, but it’s best to avoid sugar-loaded items like hot chocolate, biscuits or cereals. Aim for dairy products like milk, yoghurt or wholemeal toast with some peanut butter. Some of our clients recommend cherry juice.
Give them a warm, relaxing bath: it’s good to bathe them half an hour before bedtime as the water increases their body temperature, which then begins to decrease when the child gets out. We need a lower body temperature to sleep well.
The most important thing is, if the child’s got a sleep issue, you need to understand why before developing strategies.
For more information about the Children’s Sleep Charity, visit https://www.thechildrenssleepcharity.org.uk/.
‘We’re campaigning to raise awareness that the support isn’t there, but it’s critically important and also cost saving.
‘We know that they’re getting more referrals into the NHS for children’s sleep issues. In 2018 there was a recorded increase of 300 per cent in 10 years.
‘If a family are getting in front of GP or paediatrician, there’s a cost associated with that, and we’ve got families prescribed onto antidepressants because they’re massively sleep deprived.
‘It’s usually more cost saving to fund a sleep service.’