Lighting the Way to a Better Recovery

A clinical trial, funded by the Children’s Cancer Foundation, is investigating bright light therapy as an intervention to relieve the disruption of sleep patterns in young cancer patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

“Treatment for ALL is known to cause lasting disruption to sleep, and may have detrimental effects on children’s education, relationships and quality of life that last into adulthood”, said Dr Lisa Walter, a researcher specialising in sleep disorders, who is leading the trial.

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

"By improving the children’s sleep we also expect to see that the parents have less stress and there is an improvement in the quality of life of the family as a whole," Dr Walter said.

Eight-year-old Jensen, a patient at Monash Children’s Hospital participated in the project – his first clinical trial.

Maree, Jensen’s mother, enrolled him in the trial, as she hoped the outcomes would help him and other children with ALL in the future.

During the trial, Jensen had to wear a special light visor for 30 minutes when he woke each morning, for the duration of one of his treatment cycles (84 days).

Dr Walter monitored the sleep patterns of all participants, including those who did not have light therapy, via a special watch that recorded the number of hours they sleep and how often they wake.

Bright light therapy is a non-invasive treatment and importantly doesn’t add to the mix of medications children are coping with. Jensen was able to eat his breakfast and play on his iPad while wearing the special light visor as he participated in the trial.

Jensen attends school full-time and like most eight-year-olds has an active life, playing with his two brothers and in under 10 cricket. Ensuring he sleeps well through the night is more important than ever.

“Jensen was a light sleeper, now he goes straight to sleep. He used to sing himself to sleep or play with his toys. Sometimes it would take him half an hour to go to sleep; now it takes 5 minutes,” said Maree.

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

(Article updated December 2017)

Dr Lisa Walter in the lab