Sleep Matters

When to hire a sleep consultant

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You probably don’t need a sleep consultant to tell you how important a good night’s rest is. Just skip a few hours of the good stuff and your brain-turned-mush will do a fine job reprimanding you for not giving your body the sleep it deserves. But did you know that the consequences of sleep deprivation go far beyond physical exhaustion?

For children and adults alike, sleep is essential when it comes to maintaining cognitive skills like speech, memory and innovative and flexible thinking. Particularly for parents of children under the age of eight, sleep disturbance is a huge issue. It’s a common problem, so to speak. So, why aren’t more experts out there trying to find a cure?

Tell a physician you have a cold or cough and he or she will likely point you to the drug store where you’ll find endless boxes of cures for your ailment. Tell your physician you’re suffering from a parental case of sleep deprivation, however, and he or she will likely tell you it’s a common problem that comes hand-in-hand with parenting. How helpful is that?

As parents, we do a great job putting our children first. At least, we think we do. Whatever it takes to ensure our kids get a good night’s rest, we do it – even if it costs us our own sleep. Reality is, however, that it’s not only the parents who pay the price of their own exhaustion. It’s the children. When you don’t get enough sleep or your sleep is continually broken, your cognitive functioning is impaired, your emotional and physical health is impacted, and you’re not in an optimal position to care for your children.

The impact of sleep deprivation is far greater than that of the common cold, but where can you begin to find a solution that works for you and your children? Most likely not at your doctor’s office. Common sleep problems are more often than not related to behavioural, not medical, matters. Physicians aren’t behavioural specialists, so if yours says, “You can either let your child cry it out or prepare yourself for little or no sleep,” take it with a grain of salt. Controlled crying is not the only solution.

A couple of years ago, a Markham couple came to me with a problem. Their four-year-old daughter was going to bed without a fuss but was then waking up in the middle of the night and adamantly refusing to return to her bed. Their family physician had said, “let her sleep with you – that’s what she needs.” At their wit’s end, they had pulled a spare mattress into their bedroom and had told their daughter she could join them when she awoke.

A few months into this new routine, they had had enough. Their daughter’s late night arrivals were leaving them exhausted and her boundless morning energy, which kicked in at 6:00 a.m., was most unwelcome. As for privacy… what privacy? They were finally motivated to create some change, so together we created a plan.

They told their daughter how the current routine was turning them into cranky parents that simply weren’t fun to be around. They helped her gain a sense of pride and ownership over her bedroom by pointing out the toys, stuffed animals and other cherished items stored within. They got rid of the spare mattress in their room and reclaimed their space. They invited their daughter to choose her own rewards and incentives for remaining in her bed all night. And they set expectations, one being that the middle of the night was not the time for conversation let alone negotiation.

On the first night, mom spent three hours in her daughter’s room, responding to the four-year-old’s requests and tears with nothing more than gentle, loving strokes and the occasional “Ssssh.” On the second night, dad spent two hours doing much the same. By the third night, the tenderness they had shown over the two previous nights paid off. Their daughter knew mom and dad meant business, but she also knew they had no intention of abandoning her at night. Within one week, everyone was sleeping soundly, in their own rooms, no less.

Remember, every child is different, as is every family dynamic. While the above tactics worked for this Markham couple, other tactics may work for you. The point is simply this: there is a way to restore night-time order in your home without stifling the maternal instinct that tells you not to ignore your crying child. First, however, you have to believe that you deserve a good night’s sleep as much as your children deserve a fully conscious parent!

Co-authored by sleep consultant Chireal Shallow and freelance writer Viv Singer.

Chireal Shallow runs a UK-based sleep clinic that helps parents worldwide overcome sleep issues without the need for controlled crying. She also teaches health workers and other professionals around the world how to apply her clinic’s proven sleep training model.

© copyright 2019. Chireal Shallow & Viv Singer. Not to be reprinted without written permission.

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