Sleep clinics aimed at parents of children with challenging behaviour can improve the chances of a peaceful night, a team of specialists has concluded.

Clinics for up to eight parents at a time offer mutual support and can reduce waiting times, reports the journal Learning Disability Practice.

Mindful that disrupted sleep leads to daytime behavioural issues and parental stress, the disabled children's team in the South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust set up a pilot project to test a new approach.

Before the sleep clinics began, parents of affected children with intellectual (learning) disabilities kept two-week diaries to gather data and assess the factors affecting sleep routines.

Each clinic consisted of three two-hour sessions over three consecutive weeks, with the content of meetings including PowerPoint presentations, role play and open group discussion.

At the end, individually tailored sleep care plans were devised for each child, with follow-up evaluations a month later.

Plans covered everything from arranging and decluttering the bedroom to adopting the right tone of voice. Each plan concluded with a section headed 'What if it goes wrong?'

Instead of being added to a waiting list for an appointment with a care worker, parents reporting issues with getting their children to sleep were simply booked on the next available sleep clinic programme.

The clinics gave referred parents information on alternative techniques to cope with sleep problems, and the responses were impressive.

'I don't usually like speaking out on a course, but this one was different,' said one parent. 'Nobody judged me and the other parents were so supportive.'

Another said: 'It's made me realise that I have created the problem, but I'm much more in control now, and things are so much better.'

South West Yorkshire now runs around three clinics a year, with times set to suit parents and carers.

A neighbouring team is now poised to follow suit, and doctors have welcomed the concept, reasoning that if participants had already tried recommended strategies, it made it easier to reach decisions on prescribing medication.