Sleep Coaching Success, Simplified

Posted by & filed under Sleep Coaching.

Many sleep-deprived parents are overwhelmed by the amount information that is out there about how to get their child to sleep. I know this. I was once one of them.

The truth is that, once you boil all the information down, it doesn’t have to be all that complicated. It comes down to a few key components:

  1. Timing. Sleep coaching involves learning your child’s cues to pinpoint when he’s most sleepy. Keep in mind sleepy signs are much more subtle than parents often realize. (Slowing down during play and staring off into the distance are two examples.) Once you see those signals, that’s your window of opportunity to get your child into their sleep space. More than likely the timing is earlier than you’d think.
  2. Routine. Don’t underestimate the power of this. The pre-sleep ritual indicates to your child a predictable pattern of what’s going to happen and when. (This is key for especially sensitive, spirited or alert kiddos because this—coupled with a healthy sleep environment—will convey that they won’t miss anything.)
  3. The ability to fall asleep independently. This skill is especially important at bedtime. Parents can help to support their child by providing tools and strategies to enhance sleep and shift the responsibility of falling asleep from parent to child.
  4. Consistency. It all comes down to this. You need a plan on how to respond when your child resists sleep and use the same response every time so you can send a clear message to your child. Don’t overcommit yourself here. The approach that is going to work for your family is the one that you’re comfortable with and can adhere to–all the time.

Most parents have a combination of these already in place. However, if they aren’t collectively effective, they may need a little dissecting and tweaking.

For example, take a closer look at bedtime: Is it too late? Is the bedtime routine too long or too stimulating? Or, is the response helping or overwhelming the child?

By watching your child and using your instincts, you can come up with the right recipe to provide your child with the rest she needs to be happy and healthy.

Sleep Coaching — When to Hire a Professional

Posted by & filed under Sleep Coaching.

If you’re a first-time parent, there is almost no way to prepare for the early days of sleep-deprived stupor. Perhaps this isn’t your first, but you blocked out the experience with your previous children. Most new parents encounter some period where they are getting by on very little sleep.

Newborns and infants wake frequently as a survival mechanism, so little sleep is par for the course in early parenthood. However, once the initial shock of the “fourth trimester” subsides and your healthy baby grows closer to his or her half-year birthday, you may be asking yourself, “should I hire a baby sleep coach?”

Anyone who has ever sleep trained their little one will tell you how important and sanity-saving it is, but they may also share that the process can be a little — or in some cases a lot — daunting.

Yes, there are plenty of baby sleep books. There are also many reasons to hire a trained sleep coach to work with you one-on-one.

Here are five of the most common reasons a family might benefit from hiring a baby sleep coach.

Your child is unique.

Of course your child is special! We’re referring to the individual challenges your baby might have that are getting in the way of sleep. First you should consider age; sleep coaching for nights and naps is recommended for babies who are at least six months old. He or she may have health, special needs, or personality concerns that make the job more challenging.

Believe it or not, temperament plays heavily into this. It’s not unusual for alert, bright, and aware children to have slightly disrupted sleep. These children may hit developmental milestones early and can be very persistent, but they also tend to need a little more sleep than most.

A certified sleep coach can help you decide when to start gentle sleep coaching and suggest custom strategies for your baby or child to learn the skill of putting themselves to sleep.

Your situation is unique.

Family dynamics can be especially sensitive and require extra consideration.

You may have done research on a sleep solution, but books often don’t talk about how to incorporate things like long work hours, a complicated childcare situation, or siblings who also need dedicated time settling for bed.

A certified sleep coach will weave your individualized systems, schedules, goals, and preferences into a plan that will work for you.

You want to cut to the chase as quickly as possible.

Maybe you have a demanding job. Perhaps you have four other children and a husband who travels for work, or you’re caring for an aging loved one. Whatever your reason, you are stretched to the max without a moment to spare for anything. Reading a sleep book isn’t an option, and you need a solution, pronto.

If there are no vacations, illness, parents returning to work, or other major disruptions, most sleep coaching programs with a certified sleep coach take a few weeks to complete. They’ll help you quickly determine what works and what doesn’t. You won’t have to spend too much of your valuable time on trial and error.

You want to ensure you have the right information.

Let’s face it. There’s a lot of information on this topic. You’ve probably been inundated with books, blog articles, advice from your friends and relatives, online forums, and even healthcare providers. While all of them are very well-intentioned, you need to consider the source. Is the information based on research and evidence, or is it just from personal experience with a dash of old wives’ tale thrown in for good measure?

A trained and certified sleep coach has research-based education on the topic and is up-to-date on current pediatric sleep recommendations, standards, and best practices. A baby sleep coach will spend time educating you and your family on sleep and answering your specific questions so you don’t have to sort through outdated or irrelevant information.

A well-trained coach will also know when to refer you back to your healthcare provider to rule out an underlying medical condition that may be causing or contributing to your child’s sleep problem.

You want the reassurance and accountability of a baby sleep coach.

Hiring a sleep coach is similar to hiring a personal trainer. You may already know what you need to do to be successful, but having someone objective to come on the journey with you — to help identify goals, support your progress and celebrate your wins — will help you achieve results faster and with confidence.

Additionally, your goals may change. A certified sleep coach can help you tweak your direction and plan in real time.

A personal note about spirited children and sleep

Posted by & filed under Child Temperament, Sleep Coaching.

It wasn’t until I received training in the area of children’s temperament that it clicked for me just why I was having sleep challenges with my daughter. I swore that I paid my sleepless night dues with my first child, who was colicky and didn’t sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time (day OR night) for the first four months of her life. Then along came my second—and the real fun began.

Even in utero, I knew that she was something. She was very active–I never had to kick count. One day, when I was about 38 weeks pregnant, I was sitting on the couch watching the party she was having in my belly when she (seemingly calculated and strategic) very slowly pushed my belly button out and then back in. That was when I realized that this child wasn’t the easy-going, flexible type that many people prepared me to expect with a second child.

So how do you know if you have a “spirited” child? Some people may use the words “busy,” strong-willed,” “difficult,” ‘sensitive,’ “high energy,” intense,” “persistent,” or “alert.” Maybe even “fearless” to describe your child. These kids may hit developmental milestones early or may assess how to get what they want, each time you try to redirect their activity to something safe and/or preferred. My daughter crawled at four months, cruised by six and was walking before nine months. She never sat contently in my lap without looking to see what she could put in her mouth or yank on (with an amazing amount of strength).

When assessing new or potential clients, parents often say to me, “We think our baby has FOMO (fear of missing out) He doesn’t sleep well, but he never shows any signs of being tired. We just don’t think he needs that much sleep.”

In reality, the contrary is true. There is a link to higher intelligence in spirited kids and, while it’s likely that they hide their fatigue very, very well, they actually need more sleep. Spirited kids can be both very challenging to parent and have a very high potential in life. Sleep is a chief component in maximizing that potential.

Because of their tenacity, the same sleep rules don’t always apply to spirited temperaments. In other words, it’s neither your fault nor your child’s fault if she doesn’t drift happily off to sleep the way that your brother’s/neighbor’s/co-worker’s baby does. Your child’s temperament just provides them with a wider filter for which to experience the world. Because of this, parents need to be creative, solution-driven and–above all–consistent in their approach to helping their kids easily turn off the outside world and drift off to dreamland.

So to any parent of a spirited/alert/persistent little one: Although it may seem lonely, you are not alone! And predictable sleep patterns are a very realistic (and a necessary!) possibility for your littlest love. The effort you put into the task will help condition you for the other challenges you may face in rearing your unique and talented–img_2658or at the very least interesting and dynamic individual. This always helps me when my tiny ball of chaos throws a wrench into my day.

My daughter will now say “I tired, mommy” when she’s ready for some rest. After all, she’s got to recharge somehow from climbing in the bathroom sink only to smear toothpaste all over the mirror, while proudly declaring: “I cleaning!” or rushing into the shower fully clothed.


References are my own experience, the Gentle Sleep Coach training program, and the books “Good Night, Sleep Tight” by Kim West and “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka.

Sleep Tips Adults Can Take from Young Children

Posted by & filed under Adult Sleep, Sleep Routines.

adult-bedWhen I discuss what I do with people, I frequently get asked questions about adult sleep. Now, the fact of the matter is that adult sleep is much more complicated than young children’s sleep. However, there are some sleep fundamentals that adults can take away and apply to their own lives in an effort to enhance their own nighttime rest.

Become in sync with your own natural circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm’s job is to make you feel awake at certain times of the day and sleepy at other times. Most adults feel the most sleepy and ready for bed somewhere between 10-11 pm. If you miss your window, it can take you longer than normal to fall asleep.

Just as you may notice your child get a “second wind,’ your body will give you the equivalent of a shot of espresso. I’ve always been a decent sleeper, but I know when my window is. If I’m able to get myself to bed in my window, it can take me a very short time to fall asleep. If I miss it because I’m out late, it can take me 45-90 minutes longer to fall asleep and I wake up feeling less well rested. So take note (or keep a log) of when your sleepy zone is and try to make sure you’re in bed and ready to fall asleep at that time most nights.

Make sure your bedroom is conducive for slumber. Your bedroom should be dark. Invest in blackout shades if necessary. Also, make sure that any type of light isn’t too disruptive. This may mean covering your alarm clock so you’re not distracted by the lit time. Additionally, you want to make sure your room is at an ideal temperature, between 68-72 degrees. Another good way to subconsciously cue your body for sleep is to set your thermostat about seven degrees cooler at night than it is during the day.

Use white noise to drown out any slight noises (dogs barking outside, a neighbor’s car door slamming) that may wake you up.

You can also diffuse essential oils in your bedroom. Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Vetiver, Bergamot, or Cedarwood are some of the best to summon sleep.

Remember that falling asleep and staying asleep is a full sensory experience. It’s helpful to engage all of your senses in the act of relaxation.

Create a soothing bedtime routine. Identify what stimulates you and what relaxes you. Most people cannot exercise or be exposed to LED lighting without having a harder time falling asleep. If this is you, take a bath instead, or read a book, journal, say prayers, sip chamomile tea or warm milk… If any of this sounds rather boring, that’s exactly the point. You want to bore yourself to help unwind.

If you can’t sleep, don’t just lay there. If you’ve missed your window and are taking a long time to fall asleep. Get up and do something else. When you start to feel sleepy again, get yourself in your sleep space and do something calming.

Don’t count out consistency. As with, diet, exercise or sticking to a budget, consistency is a key ingredient in achieving success with any lifestyle change. When you find what works, repeat, repeat, repeat.

How to Gently Shape Sleep for Your Younger Baby

Posted by & filed under Sleep Shaping, Younger Babies.

gentle sleepI often get calls from parents with babies who are younger than six months old. I’m honest with them and explain that most babies under six months of age truly need their parents to comfort them. Research states that such young babies just haven’t developed the coping skills they need to sleep without any intervention.

However, many parents want to do something to maximize sleep for their families and start to develop some healthy sleep habits. If that’s your case, there are some gentle things that you can do without negatively impacting your child’s brain development or parent/child attachment and still help your child feel safe and secure.

  1. Focus on bedtime. Because of the way sleep develops, babies often take their longest stretch of sleep, immediately following when they are put down for the night. This makes bedtime the easiest place to start to teach your child the skill of falling asleep independently. You can do this by having a predictable pre-bed environment and routine and placing your child down to sleep awake when possible.
  2. Prevent overtiredness. Most parents know the saying, “Sleep begets sleep” and it’s true. Each time that a baby’s body gets ready to sleep and they don’t, their brain sends them a wake-up call that’s the equivalent of a shot of espresso. The more times they miss an opportunity to sleep, the more wired they become and the harder it is for them to relax when they are ready. To avoid this cycle of fatigue, help them sleep whenever necessary.
  3. Expose them to fresh air and sunlight. Not only will this help you get a jump on regulating your baby’s circadian rhythm (the times that he is most awake and most sleepy during the course of the day), but it will can also help provide a sensory-rich environment which provides fuel for brain development.
  4. Look for extra times to bond during the day. Babies can wake up more than necessary if they are craving some extra bonding time with their mom or dad. Make sure that your child is getting lots of opportunity to snuggle, engage, and interact during the day so they don’t seek a rendezvous at 3 a.m

Tips for Transitioning Your Toddler to a Big Kid Bed

Posted by & filed under Bid Kid Bed, Toddler Bed, Toddlers and Preschoolers.

14787363795_7233664caaMoving your little one to a big kid bed is a momentous occasion! This milestone brings new found freedom to your little cutie. However, their ability to now freely roam your home can also be a game changer for your family’s sleep.

Here are some recommendations to help you plan for the big day:

1. Consider your child’s age.
Because of my training on sleep and child development, I’m in the camp that says to wait as long as you can before the transition. Barring your child climbing out of his crib head first, try to keep them in there until at least 2 ½. At that time, kids can usually understand that they need to stay in their bed all night. Most kids move out by age 3, yet others are happily sleeping in cribs until they are 4.

2. Celebrate!
Make a big deal out of this milestone. Have your child pick out fun bedding, anything they like. Explain that this is a big kid privilege and that there are rules that big kids are capable of following. For example, when she is in her bed, it is expected that she stay there. Offer a small, but impactful reward for her compliance.

3. Begin slowly.
Most children like to know what to expect. Easing them into a big change will get them used to the idea. For example, you can begin taking the side of her crib off or leaving it down. (Either way, you may want to put some extra padding on the floor for safety). Or you can move a bed into her room with her crib or put her bed where her crib stood. Placing the bed in the corner can give mimic some of the cozy confinement that a crib provides.

4. Gate off his room.
This can serve as not only a safety precaution (to keep him from wandering around the house in the dark) but also as a gentle reminder to stay in bed all night long. It’s also worth mentioning to make sure his bedroom is thoroughly child proofed to prevent any harm that can be caused by things like early morning playtime and curiosity.

5. Set a wakeup signal.
There are many light-up clocks on the market that can help your child know when it’s acceptable to get out of bed in the morning. Some show a moon for sleep time and a sun for wake time. You can also simply set an inexpensive appliance timer to turn on a lamp to denote morning time.

Medical Reasons Your Child Is Not Sleeping: Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Posted by & filed under Medical Conditions, sleep apnea, Sleep Coaching.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly starts and stops during sleep, is one of the most common medical reasons that babies and children may have trouble sleeping. Surprisingly though, it’s not uncommon for children’s OSA cases to go undiagnosed or take a while to diagnose—even extreme ones. If your child or baby is having problems with sleep, it’s very important that you rule out OSA (as well as any other medical causes) before you begin sleep coaching.

Rachel, first-time mom to 13-month-old Ethan, shares her year-long journey to diagnosis to help other parents learn from her experience and better know what to look for in their children.

Looking back, were there any symptoms in Ethan’s earliest days?
Yes, he used to arch his neck and point his chin upwards. He also snored loudly during sleep and would make snorting sounds when he tried to sleep.  Additionally, Ethan would wake on average every two hours or shorter with a complaining cry.  At the time, I didn’t know that these were among the most common signs of sleep apnea.

Did you voice your concerns to your pediatrician?
We started to ask about Ethan’s breathing at his three-month appointment–particularly because around this time he began attending daycare and getting colds. He always sounded so snorty and would cough a lot when he slept. The doctor’s office told us that it was common congestion and that he’d grow out of it. They told us to use a humidifier to keep the room moist and to try a wedge pillow to open up Ethan’s nasal passages.

By Ethan’s six-month appointment, not much had changed. The pediatrician told us to lower the temperature in his room, to begin running the humidifier 30 minutes before bed, to give him longer warm baths and to rub Vicks on his chest, feet and the back of his neck.

It was around that same time that my husband and I took him to the hospital because he was gasping for air one night when we laid him down. The hospital gave us some Tylenol and sent us home.

What were some other indicators that things weren’t right with Ethan’s health?
For one, he wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones and, when we started him on solids, he was having a really hard time eating. He would gag, choke and/or vomit on things like mashed bananas and watered down oatmeal.

Ethan was also battling a perpetual cold. From the time he was three months old, he was getting a cold at least once per month. He’d have a runny nose and cough.

At what point, did you decide to seek a specialist?
One night, when Ethan was 11 months old, he was waking every 30-60 minutes—with yet another cold–crying and coughing. The next day, we called his doctor’s office and insisted they conduct a more thorough exam because we were confident he was not breathing properly. After the examination and then additional x-rays the pediatrician confirmed Ethan had a serious problem, with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. That’s when we called the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).

Before the appointment, the office asked us to take a video of Ethan’s sleep patterns. During the visit, the ENT took a quick look at a few of the videos and then immediately examined Ethan’s throat and x-rays very closely. He told us that his tonsils were way too big for his age and explained that Ethan would need to participate in a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis and plan next steps. We finally felt validated.

What was the sleep study like?
The sleep study captured about eight hours of data on Ethan’s condition and determined just how severe his case was. For example, a bad case of sleep apnea is exhibiting over 10 occurrences in one hour. Ethan showed up to 52! Also, he was only getting about 70% percent of oxygen, while good, average levels are above 90%.

What happened next?
His case was so severe that the hospital called to schedule surgery almost immediately following the study. Ethan had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids in March.

How’s Ethan now?
After a little recovery and adjustment period, he is almost sleeping through the whole night and is rapidly catching up with his physical development.  And he eats everything now!

What advice would you offer to parents who are in a similar situation?
If what the doctors are recommending isn’t improving your child’s situation, become more persistent in finding a solution. If nothing’s working, ask to see a specialist. And take videos. That really helped us.

photo credit: Dream Baby Dream via photopin (license)

Common Questions about Teaching a Child to Sleep

Posted by & filed under Sleep Coaching.

What type of children need sleep coaching?
Unfortunately, not all children are naturally good sleepers. Approximately one in four children under the age of five has sleep problems. Although medical conditions can cause issues, challenges can also be behavioral. Some temperaments are more prone to sleep troubles. For example, it’s common for alert children (those who reach developmental milestones on the earlier side) to encounter more sleep hurdles.

Why is it important to teach a child to sleep?
Sleep is a life skill. Just as each of us has our own unique way to unwind and fall asleep (reading a book, watching TV, taking a bath, meditating), our children need to learn what relaxes them enough to fall asleep (playing with a stuffed animal, singing, sucking fingers).

How old should a baby be before I can start sleep coaching?
For approximately the first four months of the life, a baby needs us to fall asleep. At this young age, it’s totally fine to nurse, rock, hold, etc. a baby to sleep. In fact, most babies don’t fully develop the ability to self soothe until about six months of age. Self-regulation is one of the most important aspects of sleep coaching. Until that time, you can feel confident that you will not be creating any bad habits.

What’s the best way to sleep coach my child?
The best way to coach a child to sleep is the way that fits with your parenting style and unique family dynamic. Perhaps, the most common approach is the cry-it-out (or variations of this) method. However, there are other options. Fading (doing less and less over a period of time) techniques can be very effective for families who want to offer their little ones more support. Sleep coaching does not mean that you have to give up breastfeeding or room sharing. Do your research to devise a plan that works for you.

What would cause my child (who previously was sleeping well) to wake up more frequently? Even the best sleepers may go through bouts of minor sleep adjustments. Developmental milestones, tweaks to routine (consolidating naps, switching to a big bed, travel) and life changes (birth of a sibling, start of preschool) can temporarily disrupt sleep for some kids.

Can I sleep coach my toddler or preschooler to sleep?
Although it’s harder to teach a preschooler than a baby,
because it will take longer to break ingrained habits, it’s certainly not too late. It requires some more discipline (in a warm and cozy way) as they are becoming more physical and verbal and are testing limits. Then, there is also potty training, nightmares and a switch to big kid beds that can complicate the situation. However, with firm (and loving) boundaries and extreme consistency, you can successfully teach your child to sleep.

Could there be a medical reason behind your child’s sleep challenges?

Posted by & filed under Medical Conditions, Sleep Coaching.

The most important thing that you can do before you begin any sleep coaching with your child is to work with your doctor to rule out any medical reasons for his or her sleep disruptions.

It may seem obvious, but you shouldn’t treat a child’s sleep behaviorally before a doctor treats it medically. Doing so can greatly exacerbate the situation. So let’s review some of the most common medical conditions, their symptoms and courses of treatment.

Condition: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is when there is airflow obstruction during sleep
Symptoms: snoring, sweating, restlessness, unusual sleep positions and/or distending the neck to improve air flow
Common course of treatment: surgery to remove adenoids and tonsils

Condition: Reflux is when a child’s stomach acid comes back up the esophagus into the throat, causing swelling and difficulty breathing
Symptoms: crying at night, restlessness, trouble breathing and feeding difficulties
Common course of treatment: anti-reflux medication

Condition: Asthma can inflame a child’s airway passage and make it harder to breathe
Symptoms: can run from extreme, coughing and wheezing, to almost unnoticeable, a slight increase in breaths per minute
Common course of treatment: nasal steroids and histamines to shrink the nasal passages

Medical sleep disturbances (especially breathing problems, given the small size of a child’s nose and airway) are more common than you may think. However, if left undiagnosed, these conditions—and the resulting loss of sleep–could have long-term effects on your child. Talk to your doctor if you suspect that your child has any of these conditions.

Source: Lewis Kass, MD

photo credit: Sweet dreams via photopin (license)

Is It Too Late to Sleep Coach My Preschooler?

Posted by & filed under Sleep Coaching, Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Over the past few months, I’ve received a lot of questions about sleep training older toddlers and preschoolers. This is because there are many parents who have children this age with sleep challenges that may disrupt the entire family. Rest assured that if this is you, you are not alone.

The good news is that, although it is harder to teach a preschooler than a baby, it’s certainly not too late. It just requires some more discipline (in a warm and cozy way) as your child is becoming more physical and verbal and is testing limits. Other factors such as potty training, nightmares, dropping naps and a switch to a big kid bed also have the potential to complicate the situation.

Here are some tips that can help with this age group.

Level with them. You can explain to verbal preschoolers why sleep is important in a way that will resonate with them. For example, “It’s important that you get good sleep so that you can play and have more fun during the day.”

Set boundaries. One tactic that is successful is to include sleep expectations as part of an overall behavior chart. You may already measure how well your child listens, keeps his hands to himself, or uses kind words. You can add “cooperates during nap time” or “stays in bed until morning” into the mix.

Consistently enforce the boundaries. As with most things in life, when you’re looking for results, consistency is key. And with little people who spend a lot of time honing their negotiation skills, if you waver, they won’t take your new rules seriously.

Be patient with your child and yourself. Keep in mind that your child’s sleep challenge didn’t just happen, it developed over the course of time. The process will simply require some more time and persistence on your part as you work to break very ingrained behaviors.

photo credit: Snuggling close via photopin (license)