Sleep trainers: the answer to a nightmare for many parents

As a last resort parents turn to sleep consultants who can help to settle children

Tue, Feb 4, 2014, 01:00

There’s nothing like parenthood to give you an insight into why sleep deprivation is an effective method of torture: after a while you get to the point where you feel you would do almost anything for an undisturbed night.

With a newborn in the house, night-time waking is part of the deal and you muddle on. But a common crisis point is when the mother has to return to full-time work or another baby is on the way.

Sleep issues have a draining effect on the whole family. Parents may feel they are the victims and the child the “villain”, but interrupted sleep is detrimental to both sides.

Very desperate couples turn to sleep trainers – usually having tried the advice of books, friends and family, but nothing has worked. They feel like complete failures and believe their child is the worst in the world.

Lucy Wolfe can identify with this, although initially she thought she had done everything right when her first baby was sleeping through the night from about six weeks. Then, “at about eight or nine months, everything went to pot and I didn’t understand it”.

She recalls asking her GP for a referral to a paediatric sleep expert, only to be told there was no such thing. A decade later, Wolfe is one herself.

Now a mother of four children, ranging in age from 11 to three, the former chartered surveyor had become the “go to” person for sleep problems among family and friends.

When one father confided he would have paid her any money for the help she gave them, she saw the potential and went off to be trained before setting up her own business, Sleep Matters in Cork, three years ago.

In consultation with clients, she draws up an individual, step-by-step plan and supports the parents with follow-up phone calls, at a cost of €300 per child.

“Modern life has compromised sleep,” she says. “Corporate hours are dictating that maybe we’re picking up our kids when we should be putting them to bed.”

Sleep problems are usually a combination of factors, such as a parent assisting sleep, too-late bedtimes, lack of naps and, she says, children whose biological clocks are not in sync with the optimum times to sleep through the 24-hour cycle.

Wolfe’s method does not involve leaving a child to cry and she feels very strongly about that.

“There seems to be a perception that if you want your child to sleep, then you have to cry it out. It is not really the way.”

She advocates gradual retreat where parents stay with their children and respond appropriately, then the intervention is scaled back.

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