Sleep is important for growth, immunity, learning and memory. Sleep provides energy to work, play and function properly.

One in three Australian children have trouble sleeping.

Watch as Indi asks Professor Harriet Hiscock about the sleep research done at MCRI.

Watch as Indi asks Professor Harriet Hiscock about the sleep research done at MCRI.

Child sleeping

Good sleep habits

Good sleep habits are essential to the health, wellbeing, development and learning of infants and children. Babies, children and teenagers need different amounts of sleep as they age.

Sleep restores children physically, boosts immunity and helps protect them from sickness. Children also produce growth hormones while asleep.

Lack of adequate sleep impacts coping skills, behaviour and coordination. Childhood sleep issues are linked to inattention and unhappiness, plus poorer learning, memory formation and social/emotional skills.

Most adolescents sleep less than the recommended amount on school nights. This is linked to depression and anxiety.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain respiratory or developmental conditions are more prone to sleep problems.

Infant sleep problems are related to increased risks of postnatal depression.

Child sleeping

Who does it affect?

Who does it affect?

  • At least one in three Australian children has trouble falling asleep or has trouble staying asleep throughout the night.
  • Sleep problems affect more than one-third of infants.
  • 20 per cent of mothers report severe and persistent baby sleep problems in the first year of life.
  • Up to 70 per cent of children with ADHD suffer from behavioural or medically-based sleep problems and up to 80 per cent of children on the autism spectrum have sleep difficulties.
  • One-quarter of 12 to 13-year-olds and half of 16 to 17-year-olds in Australia don’t get enough sleep on school nights.

Our sleep research

Our sleep research

Our researchers at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) discovered that conducting two sessions with parents on healthy sleep habits and behavioural strategies resulted in improved sleep for children with ADHD.

We also found that a brief intervention not only improves sleep in children with autism, but also their wellbeing and quality of life. Sleep interventions also help to improve the mental health and quality of life of parents.

Most children with epilepsy have sleep problems which can trigger seizures and reduce learning ability. We’re collaborating with UK researchers to evaluate an online sleep intervention in children with epilepsy.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) affects one in 1,000 Australian children and adolescents. We’re researching CFS (or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) to better understand the condition and its progression, evaluate interventions and embed evidence-based practice into care.

About 10 per cent of children worldwide snore or have difficulty breathing while asleep. This can cause sleepless nights, plus behaviour and concentration problems during the day. Our research has found that a saline (salt water) nasal spray is just as effective as anti-inflammatory steroid nasal sprays at easing sleep-disordered breathing in children after six weeks of treatment. The follow-up MIST+ Trial will explore long-term outcomes and whether certain children will benefit more from using the steroid or saline spray.

Alongside The Royal Children’s Hospital Respiratory Department, we’re assessing the usefulness and acceptability of sleep studies via telemedicine for patients at home.

Our research involves various projects to better understand and improve sleep in different groups. One project looks at developing reference ranges for infant sleep during sleep studies, while another looks at differences between hospital studies and home studies in paediatrics. We are determining the best CPAP pressure for home use and looking at ways to improve sleep for hospitalised patients.

Over the past decade, we've been part of achondroplasia trials, studying how bone-lengthening medication affects sleep in this group.

With support from the MRFF, we study sleep in people with developmental disabilities.

For our future studies on sleep, we’d like to investigate the impact that lack of sleep has on parents. Adolescent, child and paediatric sleep problems can affect parents’ relationships with their child and partner, cause tension and be a health issue.

Our vision

Our vision

Our goal is to help children sleep by promoting and enabling good sleeping habits from infancy to adolescence. This will help them live their best life and transform the lives of their parents and families.

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