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Pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions for non-respiratory sleep disturbance in children with neurodisabilities: a systematic review

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Arabella Scantlebury, Gemma Spiers



This is the final published version of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Health Technology Assessment, 2018.

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BackgroundThere is uncertainty about the most appropriate ways to manage non-respiratory sleep disturbances in children with neurodisabilities (NDs).ObjectiveTo assess the clinical effectiveness and safety of NHS-relevant pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions to manage sleep disturbance in children and young people with NDs, who have non-respiratory sleep disturbance.Data sourcesSixteen databases, including The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE and MEDLINE, were searched up to February 2017, and grey literature searches and hand-searches were conducted.Review methodsFor pharmacological interventions, only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were included. For non-pharmacological interventions, RCTs, non-randomised controlled studies and before-and-after studies were included. Data were extracted and quality assessed by two researchers. Meta-analysis and narrative synthesis were undertaken. Data on parents’ and children’s experiences of receiving a sleep disturbance intervention were collated into themes and reported narratively.ResultsThirty-nine studies were included. Sample sizes ranged from 5 to 244 participants. Thirteen RCTs evaluated oral melatonin. Twenty-six studies (12 RCTs and 14 before-and-after studies) evaluated non-pharmacological interventions, including comprehensive parent-directed tailored (n = 9) and non-tailored (n = 8) interventions, non-comprehensive parent-directed interventions (n = 2) and other non-pharmacological interventions (n = 7). All but one study were reported as having a high or unclear risk of bias, and studies were generally poorly reported. There was a statistically significant increase in diary-reported total sleep time (TST), which was the most commonly reported outcome for melatonin compared with placebo [pooled mean difference 29.6 minutes, 95% confidence interval (CI) 6.9 to 52.4 minutes; p = 0.01]; however, statistical heterogeneity was extremely high (97%). For the single melatonin study that was rated as having a low risk of bias, the mean increase in TST was 13.2 minutes and the lower CI included the possibility of reduced sleep time (95% CI –13.3 to 39.7 minutes). There was mixed evidence about the clinical effectiveness of the non-pharmacological interventions. Sixteen studies included interventions that investigated the feasibility, acceptability and/or parent or clinician views of sleep disturbance interventions. The majority of these studies reported the ‘family experience’ of non-pharmacological interventions.LimitationsPlanned subgroup analysis was possible in only a small number of melatonin trials.ConclusionsThere is some evidence of benefit for melatonin compared with placebo, but the degree of benefit is uncertain. There are various types of non-pharmacological interventions for managing sleep disturbance; however, clinical and methodological heterogeneity, few RCTs, a lack of standardised outcome measures and risk of bias means that it is not possible to draw conclusions with regard to their effectiveness. Future work should include the development of a core outcome, further evaluation of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions and research exploring the prevention of, and methods for identifying, sleep disturbance. Research mapping current practices and exploring families’ understanding of sleep disturbance and their experiences of obtaining help may facilitate service provision development.Study registrationThis study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42016034067.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Beresford B, McDaid C, Parker A, Scantlebury A, Spiers G, Fairhurst C, Hewitt C, Wright K, Dawson V, Elphick H, Thomas M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Health Technology Assessment

Year: 2018

Volume: 22

Issue: 60

Print publication date: 01/11/2018

Acceptance date: 01/03/2018

Date deposited: 02/11/2018

ISSN (print): 1366-5278

ISSN (electronic): 2046-4924

Publisher: Health Technology Assessment


DOI: 10.3310/hta22600


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