Lighting the Way to a Better Recovery

The Children's Cancer Foundation is funding a ground-breaking project that uses bright light therapy to relieve the disruption of sleep patterns in young cancer patients.

Recruitment has begun for a pilot study involving children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Rapid advances in treatment have meant more than 90% of children will now survive this cancer. However, the treatment is known to cause lasting disruption to sleep. 

“The poor sleep habits developed by these children may have detrimental effects on their education, relationships and quality of life that last into adulthood”, says Dr Lisa Walter a specialist in sleep disorders at the Ritchie Centre at Monash University who is leading the project.

Dr Walter learnt that light therapy had been effective for sleep problems in adult cancer patients. So she devised this trial to test whether the therapy will provide the same benefits to younger patients.

Twenty volunteer patients from Monash Children's Hospital and The Royal Children's Hospital will take part in the study which lasts for 15 months. Half will wear a special light visor for 30 minutes when they wake up each morning, for the first 30 days of their treatment cycle. The other half will not have the light therapy. Sleep patterns will be closely monitored with participants wearing a special watch that will monitor the number of hours they sleep and how often they wake.

It's hoped the pilot study will provide enough evidence to justify a full national trial at all children’s hospitals across Australia. One of the great benefits of bright light therapy is that it is non-invasive and doesn’t add to the mix of medications.It is also low cost, portable and easy to manage. Ultimately, the light visors could become standard care for these children. 

“We hope that by improving sleep using light therapy during early childhood when the cancer-related sleep problems first begin to appear, these children will not develop the poor concentration, learning difficulties, mood swings and poor quality of life that are associated with poor sleep,” says Dr. Walter.

“This research would not be possible without funding from the Children's Cancer Foundation, and we thank them for their support.”