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Award-winning sleep

Posted on Friday 27th October 2017
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Wioleta Kowalska and members of the sleep medicine team with their awards.

Senior Sleep Physiologist, Wioleta Kowalska, shares her experiences from the British Sleep Society Conference 2017, attended by the Evelina London sleep medicine team.

“Every two years the British Sleep Society holds a major conference, covering adult and children’s sleep medicine. Professionals come together from across the UK to present the latest research and discuss best practice in treating sleep disorders.

The philosophy of the Evelina London children’s sleep service is that every member of the team provides excellent clinical care but also takes part in cutting-edge sleep research. Earlier this year we started planning how we would share our experience and the fruits of our research. We needed to get ready...

As a physiologist, I’m a scientist who specialises in interpreting sleep data. On a day-to-day basis I’ll meet the young people that come to us for a sleep study, answer any questions and provide reassurance, then set up the study. It’s my job to interpret the information the tests provide during the night and produce analysis for the rest of the team.

Narcolepsy is a rare illness with irresistible and unpredictable daytime sleep attacks and a number of other symptoms. When it comes to diagnosing and treating narcolepsy in children and young people, the sleep centre at Evelina London is the busiest in the UK. With support from my team, I created a poster showcasing research we have been doing to help improve diagnosis of narcolepsy in children.

Our team submitted eight posters, demonstrating the range of work that we do to diagnose and treat children’s sleep disorders. Incredibly, all of our posters were accepted to be shown at the conference. Even more, my poster was selected for a main stage presentation. After overcoming shaky legs, a very dry throat, and repeating incessantly ‘You can do it!’ like an army sergeant, I presented my work. Phew!

Although more extreme forms of narcolepsy are often easy to diagnose due to obvious and dramatic symptoms, it can be more subtle – making diagnosis a challenge. Currently the tests we use are based on interpreting sleep data using normal values from adults. The work I presented showed the ways in which our team has been has been seeking to improve diagnosis to make it more sensitive to children. It was great to be able to share this pioneering work with professionals across the UK.

Other members of the team who presented at the conference included Dr Rebecca Martyn, clinical psychologist and Professor Paul Gringras, sleep and neurodisability consultant and clinical lead. Rebecca gave a keynote speech on the importance of psychological support for children and families dealing with complex and severe sleep problems, and some of the ways we do this at Evelina London. Paul presented the first results from a trial of a new formulation of melatonin specifically for children with autism and poor sleep. Melatonin is a natural substance (hormone and nutrient) produced by the body, and available as a medicine in tablet or liquid form. It is short acting and encourages relaxation and natural sleep. Evelina London was the main site for an international study that demonstrated benefits of this treatment on both children's actual sleep but also – and equally important – their parents’ sleep and quality of life.

It turned out to be a lucky Friday 13th for all the team, we are very proud to have left the conference with several awards. Incredibly, I picked up the ‘Early Years Investigation Award’ for my poster on diagnosing and treating narcolepsy. I couldn’t quite believe it when they called my name and my legs were still shaking as I returned to the table holding my trophy.

Amarita Banga, senior sleep physiologist and Boon Lim, research fellow, picked up another of the major awards for ‘Best Research 2017’. This was in recognition for their work on sleep in children with achondroplasia (also known as dwarfism). Two of our team’s posters also won awards.

Before seriously putting you all to sleep, I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone from my team for making the Evelina London sleep centre such a rewarding work environment, with a special thanks to our consultants extraordinaire: Paul Gringras, Mike Farquhar and Desaline Joseph for continuing our research journey and our shared determination to give the best possible care to children and families.”

Read more about sleep medicine services and the team at Evelina London.