To Sleep Soundly
With parenthood comes sleep deprivation but why is it so challenging to teach children to sleep? Lauren Peacock, owner of Little Sleep Stars, sheds some light on this age-old issue
The term sleep training instils fear and provokes negative connotations for many parents but teaching your child to sleep doesn’t mean leaving them alone in a room to cry for hours on end (or indeed at all). Lots of parents are aware of research around potential harmful effects from cry-it-out methods and so are seeking alternative solutions.
Furthermore, today’s mothers are often a comparable or higher wage-earner in a household and so the pressure of returning to demanding jobs places additional demands on a family and it’s not surprising that more and more parents are accessing the professional support that is available.
A former criminal lawyer from Lytham, Lauren experienced sleep challenges with her own little boy Harry and took steps to train as a sleep consultant.
“Harry was not a sleeper! When I was pregnant I approached it with my lawyer’s mindset – I did my research diligently, read a ridiculous number of parenting books and so felt pretty prepared for what lay ahead.”
At 11 months old, Harry was still waking at least twice in the night and Lauren was feeding him back to sleep – something that is ultimately counterproductive to instilling good sleep habits.
“For a long time, I thought my choices were either to have him cry or accept the sleep situation as it was. Because I was doing so much to help Harry fall asleep no one else could put him to bed – not even his dad – and that factored massively into my decision not to return to my legal career.”
In the end, Lauren found a sleep consultant to work with who managed to solve the sleep issues once and for all. A passion for child-sleep was ignited and when the opportunity arose to train with one of the UK’s leading child sleep experts, she knew a permanent career change was on the cards.
“Lots of mums mix with other parents at classes which makes them more aware of how other comparably-aged children are sleeping. We are confronted with an overwhelming amount of information and what generally then happens is parents try one method for a while, then switch to a different one when the first doesn’t work, leaving the little one confused and sleeping even worse than they were before.”
Lauren emphasises that a baby cannot be spoilt in the early months. Feeding or rocking a new born to sleep will not create irreversible bad habits – it’s a time to recover and bond. What parents can do in those early months however is to establish a daytime pattern of feeding on waking from naps, rather than feeding prior to sleep and to experiment with putting baby down sleepy but awake for some naps and at bedtime.
“The other thing parents can do from as early as two-three weeks is to establish a simple bedtime routine that will help to cue the baby for night-time sleep. As a baby approaches four months, habits are starting to form so the four-six-month window is a great time to start to gently shape a little one’s sleep into the habits we are hoping to establish.”
Sleeping well is a learned skill, and one that some children learn more easily than others. Important physiological and neurological processes occur during sleep which are essential for both children and adults. Little ones need their sleep in order to keep up with the immense physical and cognitive development that occurs during their early years. And parents need sleep in order to be the best parents they can be.
No two children are the same and there is no reliable one-size-fits-all approach to helping a child sleep better. Temperament plays a huge role in sleep. Lauren says that more than 90 per cent of her workload comprises children who she would describe as “alert” or “super alert”.
“These are little ones who are “into everything” and are often early to physical milestones such as walking. Alert children are typically strong-willed too and can make parents doubt themselves when it comes to implementing a strategy to improve sleep.”
“Just to make things even trickier for their parents, many alert little ones rarely display “sleepy cues” such as yawning until the door to tiredness is about to close which can then mean the ideal sleep-window is missed and overtiredness results. The good news is that these are children with pretty unlimited potential and are amazing little characters – so whilst they can be tricky sleepers they’re actually pretty wonderful!”
Lauren Peacock – Sleep Specialist – UK
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