A cozy, quiet and darkened bedroom can help children who have cerebral palsy get a better night’s rest, according to research being done by a student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

OT_News-01Risha Dutt, a rehabilitation science master’s student, is studying the link between bedroom conditions and nighttime behavior, and recently presented her early findings to the Delhi Branch of All India Occupational Therapists’ Association, according to a news release. Dutt’s presentation went so well, according to the release, the group asked her to give it three more times before returning to Canada.

“One of the problems people with cerebral palsy often experience is chronic pain,” Dutt said in the release. “Their muscles are so much more tense. When you have pain, you don’t fall asleep as easily. And now we are discovering that when you are not well rested, you feel more pain.”

Past research also has shown links between sleep deficiency and diabetes, obesity, depression and cardiovascular disease. Memory, thinking and problem solving also are affected.

“People say, ‘I’ll just go to bed earlier,’ but that doesn’t work,” Dutt’s supervisor, Cary Brown, PhD, MA, BMR(OT), said in the release. “You just lie there wide awake.”

Brown is an associate professor in the occupational therapy department at Alberta.

“When you go into the sleep literature, there’s information about autism and children with epilepsy and other more high-profile conditions, but children with cerebral palsy have not been very well studied,” Brown said in the release.

Parents’ manual provides tips

As part of her research, Dutt, Brown and occupational therapist Amelia Rajala, MSOT, created a manual for parents of children with cerebral palsy — a checklist of simple tips for improving the bedroom environment. Tips include reducing television and computer time before bed, making the room as dark as possible and reducing or muffling noises.

“The evidence is there that those things are effective, but parents don’t have that information,” Brown said in the release. “They think that having the TV on while their child falls asleep is good, but actually that’s a bad thing.”

Risha Dutt

Risha Dutt

Before coming to the university, Dutt worked in her native India as a consultant in private clinics with children affected by cerebral palsy. One patient she worked with was very overactive and having trouble focusing on her surroundings, according to the release. Dutt had been in contact with Brown while applying for the master’s program, so she had become familiar with sleep research. She sent some sleep tips home with her patient’s mother, and a week later they both noticed improvement.

“That’s when I knew that these techniques could make a real difference,” Dutt said in the release.

She recruited families to participate for her study through the Cerebral Palsy Association of Alberta and GRIT-Inclusive Early Childhood Program in Edmonton. The parents follow suggestions in the manual and report back on how well the tips work to improve their child’s sleep. Dutt also is using her ties in India and on Facebook to gather data online. She plans to finish analyzing the data she is collecting about bedroom modifications by August, according to the release.