Sleep, elusive sleep. This is one area that many parents struggle with in the first few years. When your little one isn’t getting enough sleep, you aren’t either. Soon you’re both running on empty, just trying to get through the day, all while dreading another bedtime. Did you know a sleep consultant can help you get back on track?
Following is an interview with sleep consultant Erin Lawyer. She has shared with us some great tips to help you and your children start getting the sleep you need and how she can help you find a consistent schedule and get back on track in this important area.
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself? What is your background, and how did you get started as a sleep consultant?
My name is Erin Lawyer, I am a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Chasing Dreams Sleep Consulting. As a mom to three boys aged 7, 5 & 3, I’ve experienced plenty of sleep deprivation.
After hitting rock bottom with my middle son’s sleep, I found help through the Sleep Sense Program. I always thought I was alone in my sleep struggles, that we would never have a good night sleep. Instead, I had the support and guidance I needed to help my son (and in turn, myself!) get the sleep we both desperately needed.
Within a couple nights, Lucas was sleeping well through the night and taking solid naps. He was finally getting the sleep he needed for his health, happiness, and development. My youngest son benefited from practicing good sleep skills from the start, was sleeping through the night by 11 weeks, and was a well-rested, happy baby.
Teaching my middle son Lucas to sleep well was a turning point for me. I found my passion–helping families get the sleep they need! I spent the next couple years learning everything I could about sleep, helping families through the process, until I was certified as a Sleep Sense Consultant.
What are the biggest mistakes you see parents making and what should they be doing instead?
The top 3 biggest mistakes that I see parents making in regards to their toddler’s sleep are:
- Lack of an age appropriate schedule. Having an age appropriate schedule is crucial! If bedtime is too late, he is going to be overtired, which will most likely cause him to have trouble falling asleep. This can also cause night wakings and early wake ups. Many children can experience night terrors when overtired, which is frightening for parents to observe. If naps are too late in the day, or too long, it can also affect their night time sleep. For a 2-year-old, an appropriate schedule could be: 7 am wake, 1-2:30 nap, 8 pm asleep.
- A poor bedtime routine and/or giving in to bedtime demands. Toddlers begin to realize that they are their own person, and try to test the boundaries to see what they can get away with while asserting their authority. These protests affect all areas of their day, particularly around sleep times. My recommendation is to have a clear bedtime routine, such as: Bath, PJ’s, Brush Teeth, Potty, Read, into bed wide awake. While bedtime battles are common, with clear boundaries, bedtime will go smoothly and end peacefully.
- Assisting the child to sleep. If a child depends on a sleep prop to fall asleep, such as patting, rocking, laying with, etc., they will find it difficult to fall back to sleep without their prop. It is very important that children have their own internal strategies of falling asleep, or they will need to call out to you to recreate whatever situation got them to sleep in the first place, resulting in a lot of sleep disturbances. Instead, allow your child to fall asleep independently without sleep props.
How many hours of sleep do little ones need in a 24-hour period? Roughly how should that be divided between day/night?
Getting enough sleep is so important for all of us, especially to our children that are growing and developing at such a rapid pace. An ideal bedtime for a child (after newborn stage) is between 6-8 pm, as this works with their natural circadian rhythm.
The amount of sleep needed will vary by age, check out the quick reference chart below. Babies tend to drop to 1 nap between 12-15 months, though some may drop it as late as 18 months. Most toddlers need to nap until 3-4 years of age, to get the sleep their bodies need. Stopping napping too soon can result in night disturbances, or in some cases, not enough total sleep per day. Once children completely drop the nap, their night time sleep will need to lengthen further to compensate for the loss of daytime sleep.
Do you use cry it out or a gentler approach? What does that generally look like?
Everyone has a different interpretation of what this popular term “Cry It Out” means. One mom once told me she nursed her baby to sleep, laid him in the crib (asleep), and that was “CIO”. On the other side of the spectrum, others believe it to be putting baby down wide awake, walking away, shutting off the monitor, and not returning until morning. I’ve heard every variation in between.
My approach is gentle and eases children through the transition of learning to sleep independently, while maintaining the family’s active involvement, if this is something you are comfortable with. I have a variety of methods that can be used depending on the child and family’s needs. While I do not teach a “CIO” method, there will be some protest on the child’s part.
Making changes to anyone’s sleep habits usually results in some resistance, (even as adults), but because the plan is custom designed for your family with personalized support, the amount of crying is considerably less than if you tried to go at sleep training alone with a sleep method off of the internet or a book.
The amount of crying really depends on your child’s personality, how big her sleep debt is, and how overtired she is. Crying is a symptom of fatigue, confusion, and frustration, and may not be prevented.
I do not ask families to leave your children for a long period of time to cry without responding to her and I will support each family on just how to do that. The good news is that when done right, crying is minimal and success is achieved. Once babies/children learn how to fall asleep on their own – which can happen pretty quickly – the crying goes away shortly! It’s very short term with huge rewards for everyone in the family at the end of the journey.
Can you tell us the best success story from someone you’ve helped as a sleep consultant?
I have helped hundreds of families through the years, I’m not sure if there is one specific one that stands out. Some of my favorites are babies or toddlers that were previously waking every 1-2 hours overnight, or being awake for hours during the night, to sleeping through the night in a few days.
Families are amazed at the changes in their children after they get a good night sleep, and often times I hear from them within a few days to a week later saying their child is suddenly rolling, crawling, walking, talking, or some other huge developmental milestone. Their child is finally getting the rest their body and brain need for their growth and development.
Perhaps the best success story is my own, since it is the reason I became a Sleep Consultant and have been able to help create these success stories. My son Lucas was waking every 45-90 minutes, all night, every night. I did not have one single sleep cycle myself in over a month, it was wreaking havoc on my mind, body & soul. Once we began our program, within a week Lucas slept 13 hours straight!
This experience was a turning point in my life, that combined my passion for helping people with my love of sleep. Since then, I have had the privilege of helping hundreds of families and been able to hear their success stories.
I’ve helped parents who…
- felt their families were falling apart
- felt they were failing their baby or their older child whom they didn’t have energy to keep up with
- were concerned they were unsafe from their sleep deprivation
- were falling asleep at work
- experienced new or worsening health problems because of sleep deprivation
At the end of their programs, I hear how relieved they are when bedtime is easy and pleasant, what a lifesaver this was, how everyone that sees their child remarks on the positive changes to their mood, and ultimately, how life changing it is. Parents are well rested so they can be the best parent and partner they can be, then have down time in the evening to unwind and connect with one another.
(A side note from me, Amy–This is something I mentioned in my recent post, How to Nurture Your Marriage After Kids. My husband and I have always put our little ones to bed quite early, which has provided a great opportunity for us to connect with one another before we were too exhausted to care. It is one of the things that has helped keep our marriage strong through 23 years of parenting!)
A few testimonials:
“I used to wake up in the morning already dreading bedtime. Now, I know that our toddler can go to sleep independently with no crying and more importantly, she knows she can do it. It has truly changed our family dynamic and we’re all in a better mood now. ” -Christy, mother of 3-year old
“She was our God send when it came to our 4-year old and his terrible sleep habits. He went from taking 2 hrs to go to sleep, coming out 3-5 times in the middle of the night, and waking at 5am to sleeping thru the night with going to sleep within 10 minutes, not coming out in the middle of the night at all, and sleeping/staying in his room until desired morning wake time. His behavior has improved tenfold because he’s getting good restorative night time sleep!” -Jamie, mother of 4-year old
“Bedtime is a dream – I actually look forward to that calm, relaxing time together.” -Amanda, mother of 8-month old
How does your sleep consultant business work and where can we go to get more information about how you could help us personally?
I work intimately with families to build a customized program that allows you, as parents, to feel confident in the gentle changes we will make to transform your children into good sleepers. I provide the support, knowledge and guidance for your child to improve his overall sleep in days.
Hiring a sleep consultant provides the key to success, an outside person to lean on through the exhaustion and stress! Someone who has been there before and can provide encouragement to help you get to the other side. Someone to guide you through the endless supply of sleep advice in books and online. I work with families prenatally, all the way through pre-pubescent.
I understand how challenging and stressful it can be for parents to make changes to their child’s sleep habits while second-guessing every step of the process. Guiding families through this process is so life-changing for the families, and so rewarding for me. Bedtime is no longer a struggle, everyone gets the sleep they need at night as well as reliable, consistent naps.
I offer a free 15-minute phone evaluation to discuss your child’s sleep obstacles and discuss how my services can help your family. I would love to discuss what’s going on with sleep in your family!
Typically, within 3 weeks toddlers can be going to bed easily, sleeping through the night, and working on good naps. Can you imagine, in less than a month from now, if life were that easy and bedtimes peaceful for both you and your child? I’d love to help make that happen!
You can e-mail me or find a link on my website to reserve your free call.
E-mail : Erin@chasingdreamssleep.com
Facebook: Chasing Dreams Sleep Consulting
Thank you, Erin!
Thanks for your insight and a peek into the world of a sleep consultant. I appreciate you taking the time to answer some of our questions regarding sleep for our little ones.
Readers, where do you struggle most when it comes to sleep for your little one? Have you considered hiring a sleep consultant to help get yourself and your kids on track? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!