Five Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Sleep Coaching My Child

Posted by & filed under Lessons Learned.

It wasn’t too long ago when I decided to sleep train my younger daughter. As prep, I read over a dozen books, countless articles and advice posted on community forums and blogs on sleep training. It still took a few long and painful months to teach my daughter how to sleep. Yes, that’s right folks, months! And I was per-sis-tent!!

It wasn’t until I had started my certification classes and got the privilege to speak directly with Kim West, aka the Sleep Lady, that I was able to finally understand and work through the last stubborn bits of my daughter’s slumber.

Now that we’re officially past that agonizing point in our lives, I have the hindsight, emotional clarity, and expertise to know what works and why. And I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

1. Have a well-thought-out plan. Sure, this may seem like a no-brainer. But, when I was sleep coaching my daughter, I experimented with several strategies before I pieced together bits of info that were relevant to our situation. I had a plan but, admittedly, it was very half-baked. When things started to go from black and white into various shades of grey, I didn’t know what to do.

Take Away: Plan for contingencies. As they say, “the devil is in the details.” Do you know what you are going to do if your child wakes up and wants to eat at a time you’re not prepared to feed him? What if your bed-crashing toddler becomes a master at sneaking under your covers undetected? What if she gets sick a week into the process? Of course, you’re not going to be able to foresee all the “what ifs,” but the more you can bullet proof your strategies, the better off you’ll be.

2. The same sleep coaching strategy won’t work for every child. After I tried and failed a few times on my own, I ended up purchasing a canned step-by-step program that claimed to be my panacea. I followed it exactly, and, understandably, was extremely disappointed when it didn’t work.

I now know and understand that my daughter is extremely alert and that alert children can be lightning rods for sleep challenges. I’ll also admit that I used the wrong method for a child her age. At that time, my daughter was about five months old. What I’ve learned is that self-regulation skills aren’t fully developed until around six months and self-soothing is at thev foundation of sleep training.

What the purchased program did not mention was that children with my daughter’s personality were going to protest much more persistently making my job as a sleep teacher significantly harder and the process significantly longer. It also didn’t inform me that my daughter was not developmentally ready, which again exacerbated our overall frustration.

Take Away: Consider your child’s and family’s unique needs. Schedule, routine, feeding practices, instincts, attachment, development and dynamics are some things to keep in mind.
Additionally, there are a lot of people offering sleep information, make sure any advice you take is complete, credible and based on facts and research

3. Consistency is everything. Even when I was just learning about sleep coaching, I knew that consistency is a biggie—it’s even common sense. I’m not going to achieve any goal in life, if I don’t consistently work towards it. And I was ok with that.

But, let’s face it, like anything I’ve ever tried to do when I am severely sleep deprived, It. Is. Hard. Some nights it was even darn near impossible.

Take Away: Stick to Your Plan. If you decide you want to take a cry-it-out approach, but can’t take it after two or three nights, it’s possible that your child will call your bluff and cry longer the next time you try it.

4. Make sure your child is as well-rested as possible. I had always read that, “Sleep begets sleep,” but I didn’t fully understand it. I thought, “I can’t get my daughter to sleep, that’s the problem!” The piece I was missing was that my daughter’s sleep tank was low, and all sleep is connected. So I started my coaching with an overtired kiddo who was fighting all efforts to sleep at every turn.

Take Away: Try to Minimize Your Child’s Sleep Deficit. This means that if you can consistently rely on your child to nap in the car or stroller (even if you want to do away with that habit) you need to use that tool to get in the zzzs before you start your journey.

5. How to put myself back to sleep. Before I had kids I slept like a champ. Like I never, ever had any issues…ever. It was after acquiring insomnia when pregnant and then being up so often with my daughter, I developed bad habits. I’d watch early morning infomercials, play Candy Crush saga or scroll through online communities in an attempt to unwind after my daughter’s nightly wake-up calls. Then, when I tried to turn my brain off, it was tough. For awhile, even after my daughter was sleeping well, I was up for the day at 3 or 4 am, because I had conditioned myself to be wide awake at that time.

Take Away: Protect your sleep. Try to steer clear of any type of light or activity that may “wire your brain.” The obvious offenders are LED TVs, smart phones and laptops. But think of some other culprits. Nightlights and digital alarm clocks (specifically those emitting blue, white or green light) should be replaced with lights that are gentler on your sleep cycle. Red is the best.

Cover the numbers on your clock, put red bulbs in your night lights, purchase blue-light blocking glasses or screens, and/or limit exposure to video baby monitors (which can emit blue light as well.) Do your best to keep your brain producing melatonin in an effort to get some shut eye whenever you can.

There you have it. Hope these tips helps you in your sleep coaching journey. And if you’re looking for some more helpful info before beginning, my mentor, Kim West, has a great article called “10 Steps to Take Before Starting Sleep Coaching.” It includes some key things to do, including checking with your child’s doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions and discuss nutritional needs.

Good luck on achieving your best rest. And if you have any questions or lessons learned, please feel free to share them!

Find out if your child’s temperament makes it harder to sleep.

Posted by & filed under Child Temperament.

Earlier this week I came across an article in the New York Times, called “Some Babies Are Just Easier Than Others.

It made me think about questions that I am often asked by parents, “Why doesn’t my child sleep well, but my coworker’s/cousin’s/best friend’s child does?” or “Why don’t my other children have any problems sleeping?”

Of course, sleep can be a big puzzle with many pieces to be assessed and considered (health, behavior, development, family, attachment, and nutrition–to name a few) before it can all easily fit together. However, one thing that can be a significant contributing factor is temperament.

Are you curious if your child’s temperament makes it harder for them to sleep? If so, email me and I will share an assessment survey tool that I use in my practice. It is designed by temperament therapists for children 4 months-6 years and can help with other aspects of parenting. (Full disclosure: There is a small fee to join the not-for-profit site.)

Did you know there IS a sleep upside of springing ahead…especially for families of early risers?

Posted by & filed under Daylight Savings, Sleep Coaching.

If you have a child who struggles with early rising, you can leverage the time change to eke out a few extra hours of sleep this week by keeping them to their old schedule a bit longer. For example, if your child previously awoke at 5 a.m., they may now naturally awake at 6 a.m. (new time). You can push their schedule forward by one hour by clock (naps and bed would be scheduled for one hour later)—so the schedule feels the same to them.

Early rising is one of the most stubborn sleep-puzzle pieces to fall into place. And there are quite a few (some very specific) causes of early rising. I’ll discuss those in future posts. Happy Spring!

How can a sleep coach help me?

Posted by & filed under Sleep Coaching.

We all know that sleep is a vital part of every person’s existence, just like food and water. Adequate and restful sleep leaves us feeling restored and healthy in the morning. This is because while we sleep, our body is very hard at work helping biological processes like our nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems to function properly.

In kids, sleep is even more important. Children are growing at such a rapid pace and sleep is crucial to every part of their development. However, 25% of children under the age of 5 need some help falling and staying asleep. That’s when a sleep coach can help.

What is a sleep coach? An infant and toddler sleep coach (also called a pediatric sleep consultant) is a person who provides advice and/or a plan to help young families maximize sleep. They do this by getting to know the family, assessing their goals, needs and unique situation and then providing customized recommendations on how to improve the entire family’s sleep.

Why would I need a sleep coach? Unfortunately, not all children are naturally good sleepers. Some require additional assistance to shut out their surroundings and settle themselves to a state where they can easily drift off to dreamland.

In an effort to help their children to fall sleep, parents may sometimes unintentionally create what’s called a sleep crutch or habit that the child heavily relies on and/or cannot fall asleep without. Common crutches are rocking and nursing to sleep. The hallmark of a good sleeper is the ability to fall asleep without any outside assistance—or anything that they, themselves, cannot control.

A sleep coach can help parents identify anything that is getting in the way of their child’s sleep. He or she will strategize with the parents and develop a plan that

  1. Educates them on the fundamentals of sleep to set the family up for success before coaching begins
  2. Prepares them on how to work past any ingrained habits or challenges they may encounter during the process

Why should I hire a sleep coach? You should hire a sleep coach for the very same reasons that you would hire any professional to do a job that you have limited knowledge about or experience in.

For example, when your car needs new oil, you could always opt to change it yourself. However, most people choose to take it to an expert who can save them the time, headache, and many times the money (especially if you do it wrong the first time) of doing it themselves.

Much the same way, a reputable sleep coach can save you the energy and potential negative side effects of sleep training the wrong way (or the wrong way for your family’s needs)—not to mention some undue stress and confusion on your child’s part.

What should I consider when selecting a sleep coach? The first factor to consider when choosing a sleep coach is their background and training. Ask yourself, “Is this person adequately trained and certified?” Remember that you are trusting this person to help you decide what’s best for your most priceless possession, your child. You’ll want to be sure that they not only have professional experience, but also possess research-based knowledge, expertise and resources to help you assess the unique needs of your family. Most coaches who have completed reputable and comprehensive certification programs will meet this requirement easily.

Coaching philosophies can differ so be sure to select a coach that fits your parenting style. For example, if you are a nursing mother who would like to continue to breast feed your child for the foreseeable future, you’ll want to ensure that your coach will support that goal and include it in your overall sleep plan.

Finally, you’ll want someone collaborative. A coach who knows their stuff is valuable, but a coach who will listen and partner with you to devise a plan that includes your feedback is invaluable. This is because an approach that you’ve provided input into is more likely to be one that you can follow-through with, and in turn, can dramatically improve your chance of success.