Lets Talk Sleep with Helen Sleep Nanny!


The precious word never too far from the lips and thoughts of parents.  Getting your children into a good bedtime routine can be tricky at the best of times never mind maintaining that during lockdown.  If anything, perhaps at this very unknown precarious time we all, parents included could do with a better sleep routine, as it is many of us are working from home and trying to fit that around home schooling, looking after the family and the home.  Bedtimes may be pushed further into the evening as we adapt to this new normal.  Sleep patterns may be disrupted due to busy minds and big worries again as much for parents as the kiddies.

So, what should we be doing, should we go with the flow and not worry so much about routines at the minute or do we need to maintain structure and stability?  Luckily for you all we have our resident sleep nanny on board and she is going to talk us through some sleep questions relating to our current lives and our normal lives. 

Say hello to Helen previously a former Children’s Occupational Therapist, a Mum and Sleep Consultant, although we prefer the term Sleep Nanny it’s got all the Mary Poppins feels about it.   Whether its bedtimes battles, frequent night waking, early rising, nap refusal or co sleeping Helen is sure to be able to help. 

Helen tell us a bit about you and the service you provide.

Hi I’m Helen and i’m married to Gareth and we have 4 kids aged between 2 and 9 years.  I’m a qualified sleep consultant.  My youngest child Tara and her sleep challenges as a baby were definitely my inspiration to do what I do now lol!  I previously worked as a children’s O.T. and in that job my role was to help children reach their full potential.  This is still what I aim to do in my sleep consultancy job – but just coming at it from a different angle – babies and children need to be well rested to reach their full potential.  I now work on the ‘well rested’ element of that!

I work with children aged from 4 months – 6 years.  My service includes detailed assessment, face-to-face consultation (online) to set parents up with a tailored plan and then support them via text and phone calls over the next couple of weeks to get to where they want to be. 

One of the first questions we may have as parents is around routine, when should we establish a good sleep routine and if we have now got toddlers are we too late to start one?

Routine is so important.  It acts as a cue to tell your little ones what is happening and what is coming next.  Routine helps the body naturally prepare for sleep and wakeful times.  Essentially it is as simple as doing the same steps in the same order every night.  You can start a simple routine even with a very young baby.  But also,  don’t panic if routine isn’t yet in place in your house, its never too late to implement one!

We have all been there searching round the cot in the middle of the night trying to find a dummy to settle the baby back to sleep, is it important to teach a baby to self settle and when should you start?

Dummies can be very useful for some babies.  They are even proven to help reduce the risk of SIDS in babies up until the age of 6 months.  But thereafter they can become a hinderence.  If your little one relies on a dummy to fall asleep, he will likely require it to get back to sleep if he wakes in the night- and will need you to find and replace it. 

Self-settling is a learned skill.  It is a form of self-regulation and a vital life skill.  Some babies need more support than others to achieve this skill.  But be assured, teaching your baby to sleep independently can be achieved in a very gentle, kind and supportive manner, with you fully responding to your child’s needs. 

You can work on sleep training with a baby anytime from 18 weeks old.  Before this age, you can certainly work on introducing foundation techniques but your main focus with your new-born will be bonding and responding to their cues and not worrying about any bad habits,  you can do no wrong in those early weeks, so relax and enjoy this time! 

Lets talk about daytime naps, whether its 30 mins or 1 hour or maybe even 2 hours but what about when those naps start to dwindle away.  Or perhaps when daytime sleeps affecting night time sleep, what should we do?

Naps are very important- right up to the age of 3 and a half for most children!!!  Sleep begets sleep and a child who naps well is likely to sleep well at night time so long as the naps are at the right sort of times of day,  there are some myths out there to cut daytime sleep when a little one is struggling at night time -but often that is not the answer, and may only contribute to the problem!

What is co sleeping and what’s your thoughts on it?

Co-sleeping is when parents share a bed with their baby/child.  For some families this works and that is great- so long as they have considered the safety aspects and that everyone is getting the sleep they need.  But often it is not sustainable and doesn’t work long term.  Maybe there’s just not enough space for everyone to be comfortable anymore. Maybe there is a new baby coming.   Maybe the parent doesn’t sleep well because they are concerned about the safety of the child.  And so often there comes a point where it is no longer an option.  But it can be a difficult habit to break…!

Sleep training sounds like a very hard process probably more so for the parent.  What does the process involve and when would it be necessary?

At what point parents approach me for 1:1 help is a very personal decision.  Some families prefer to keep going in the hope that things will work themselves out.  Other parents reach a point where they want/need change to happen…and they just need someone to tell them what to do and they’ll do it! I often compare myself to a personal trainer and the role they do – tailoring a specific plan , guiding you through it, tweaking it when necessary and holding you accountable to reach your desired goal. 

Is sleep training difficult?- it can be challenging initially but as I often say to parents- so is what they are doing right now.  And sleep training is short term to reach a long term goal.  And it is gentle and supportive at all times. 

So, thinking about our current situation and how it may be having an effect on the bedtime routines we have in place.  What would you recommend we do, is it important to maintain those routines and why?

Yes, in our current climate I believe it is really important to maintain a bedtime routine.  It is also a really good time to start one if there not one in place!  We are at home with our kids, with nowhere to be.  No dancing or football or music lessons etc.  the perfect time to sort all things sleep!!!  Before the business of our world takes over again.  As a mum of 4, with a husband who works in the NHS, I am at home with my children every day.  I am enjoying this time with my kids and grateful can be here for them – but I maintain the same bedtime routine as pre-lockdown.  I treat everyday as a school day!  It benefits them as they get their rest, and it’s also important for us as parents.  I enjoy some ‘me’ time when they go to bed – maybe getting out a walk or reading a book- or more often helping set up a sleep deprived family with a plan to restore rest in their house!!

Obviously if one member of the house is struggling with bedtime, sleep deprivation can be felt by everyone. Grumpiness, irritability may become everyday issues Adults like kids may also be struggling with sleep, getting over to sleep may be hard, what sort of bedtime routine or tips would you suggest?

  • Implement a bedtime routine.  Same steps, same order every night.  Should be approx. 30 minutes for a child, less for a younger baby.
  • For these lighter evenings don’t be tempted to let bedtime creep later for your little ones.  Ensure no daylight is getting into the bedroom as this can interfere with melatonin production. 
  • No screens an hour before bedtime (that applies to parents too so that you can get to sleep when you go to bed!!)
  • Be consistent in your response.  If you are going to make a change, you need to decide how your going to do that and stick with your plan.  Don’t start something (e.g. decide you wont bring your little one into your bed but then give in at 5am).  A baby/young child obviously doesn’t know the time when something becomes acceptable so can’t understand why they can’t get in the next night when they waken at 2am.  Something either has to be ok at anytime, or not ok at all.  Children need a consistent message.
  • Sleep needs.  There are recommended amounts of sleep a child of a certain age should get.  (free downloadable chart available on my webpage).  These apply to 95% of children so chances are your child needs this amount, but just having challenges at the minute, which mean they aren’t  getting that amount.  It’s a good starting point to try and work towards and to guide you on the suitable gaps between sleeps. 

Its been great to have Helen collaborate with us on this blog post and if you are struggling with sleep issues or would like some help getting into a better sleep routine you can get in contact with Helen here https://instagram.com/helensleepnanny?igshid=124b2u16mq1ix. Like she said there is no better time with nowhere to go and nowhere to be.

Thanks for reading and stay safe everyone. 

Catherine and Laura xx

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