Q&A with a Certified Sleep Consultant

Kristi Roberts, MS, MPH of Little Sleepers, Big Dreamers Pediatric Sleep Consulting will be presenting an infant sleep workshop at Sprout Early Education Center on December 6, 2017 at 6:30pm. There will be a 30-minute class and a 15-minute Q&A session. This workshop is free for all Sprout families. Please click here to register.

We spoke with Kristi to get some basic information about sleep consulting and healthy sleep habits.

What does a sleep consultant do?

My goal is to help someone put all the pieces in the right places so that way we can give a child the tools they need in their little toolbox to really set them up for success to learn how to do this new skill. I often forget about this, but my job is also to support parents through that process. When you’re tired and you’re going through a struggle, you tend to seek out your network of family or friends or google to look for information to work through that challenge.

I think it’s important to put all those pieces in place and my goal is to help the parent gain the confidence and really support them through the struggle of helping their child learn this new skill, so that everyone get more restful and restorative sleep. I help develop a plan that is unique to their child’s needs and encourage them throughout the training process to keep going in the right direction.

What training and education did you complete to become a sleep consultant?

I received a certification to be an infant and child sleep consultant in 2016 from the Family Sleep Institute with over 250 hours of coursework in addition to completing courses on reducing the risk of SIDS (American Academy of Pediatrics) and lactation management training. Since then I’ve completed coursework on reducing child anxiety, cultivating child mindfulness, postpartum depression, and child development.

All of those courses together are constantly expanding my knowledge, but at the end of the day, I’m a mom. I learned from experience and remember what it was like to feel tired and overwhelmed and not know what to do to best help my child overcome that struggle. I can relate to parents a lot because I remember how challenging that was…googling in the middle of the night, “What am I doing wrong? Why won’t my kid go to bed?”

I just remember when someone finally connected me with a sleep consultant, kind of agonizing over it and thinking, “Do I really need to do this?” I was frustrated and tired but I thought I was supposed to be because I was a new mom. It changed when I saw that my daughter was tired and frustrated too, looking to me to help her and i didn’t know how to do that. I had no idea that picking up the phone and discussing our sleep challenge with a sleep consultant would make such a long-term positive impact on our family. To this day, six years later, we are still reaping the benefits of being a well-rested family that can navigate these sleep challenges and help other people see those benefits and come out on the other side.

How many families have you helped?

I’ve helped over 50 families since I started a year ago, and for someone to be so pleased with how things turned out for their family that they recommend me to work with one of their dear friends or family members really says a lot. I do love getting to know families through this process and being able to get an email like the one I received today, “Our son slept through the night the past three nights. This is amazing!” feels pretty good. Seeing people have that excitement and that confidence that there’s light at the end of the tunnel is very empowering for them and rewarding for me. People are sharing my work because they’re living the benefits of it.

Can you describe a particularly difficult sleep challenge you helped work through?

It’s hard to think of just one because even if I look at their intake form and understand what’s happening and think about ways to tweak it, as soon as I get on the phone and hear how tired and frustrated they are, you realize their challenge is big because it’s impacting their family. So they’re all challenging to me because they’re challenging to those families. Whether it is a single mother with 8 month old twins that are up every 2 hours, the couple that hasn’t shared a bed in years that doesn’t include a little one, or the parent that just can’t get the pieces to come together no matter what they try, all those situations feel difficult to those families.

It’s not just new parents, either. I work with many parents who say things like, “My first two were great sleepers, but this one we can’t get things to come together.” It impacts every piece of their day because they’re tired, overwhelmed, maybe frustrated, and they don’t know how to get out of it. These parents are well intentioned, loving parents that know their child needs sleep and wants the best for their child(ren). They’re just unsure how to get it.

Do you ever meet resistance from parents regarding your suggestions?

I definitely find resistance. Change is hard! When you’re tired, it’s hard to tell somebody, “I know that you think what you’re doing is working because your child will sleep for a short period, but we still need to work to get the best quality and restful sleep.” Some people are willing to try anything by the time they contact me, but there are others who are reluctant to make the change, which I get.

But nothing changes if nothing changes, and sometimes parents think, “Well, I tried something like this, and my child did XYZ and it was terrible, so this may end up being terrible too so I’m nervous to try it.” And that’s where I come in to support and encourage and remind them that we’re now putting all the pieces in place, whereas before maybe they only had a few pieces that were abandoned after a few days. We want to be consistent in order to get the best long-term gain. The parents that are committed to consistency are the ones that are really going to succeed.

When is the best time for sleep learning?

You can work to establish healthy sleeping habits at a young age. I work with clients in terms of sleep training once their biological sleep rhythms are able to start coming together, and that is usually after 4 months of age. I work with clients ages 4 months to 5 years. The “best” time to sleep train is when all the caregivers are able to be consistent and commit to working together to help their child. That includes your child care providers as well. The “best” sleep training method is just the one you’re going to commit to consistently.

Of course, always consult with your pediatrician and make sure the child is healthy and developmentally ready before starting sleep training.

What are 2-3 sleep tips that parents can try with their children right away?
#1. Setting up a safe environment for success.

Parents can easily modify the sleeping environment to foster better sleep. For infants, following the ABCs and placing them down to sleep alone, on their back, in a crib. Children of all ages (and adults!) sleep best in a cool, calm, dark, relaxed sleep space. The use of electronics can interfere with the production of the hormone that prepares for sleep, which makes it harder for the brain as well as the body to prepare for rest. You can add time between screen use (iPad, TV) and sleep. I suggest at least an hour between screen time and sleep time.

#2. Don’t be afraid of an early bedtime.

It may not fix the problem in one day, but consistency with an early bedtime may help. If your child is struggling to go to sleep or stay asleep, they may actually be overtired even though that sounds contradictory. Sleep leads to more sleep. Moving bedtime up can help them get additional rest to help overcome whatever sleep debt they may be experiencing.

You can learn more about Kristi and schedule a complimentary 15-minute personal consultation at her website, Little Sleepers Big Dreamers. You can also read our previous blog post about electronics and fussy behavior that could interfere with sleeping.

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