Kate Cohen is the owner of Sleep Time Consulting. She is a certified sleep consultant and member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants and gives us the lowdown on how to help your children sleep better.
How long you have been doing Sleep Time Consulting for and how did you get into being a sleep consultant?
I set up Sleep Time Consulting nearly 5 years ago now. My son had never really slept through the night by the age of and that was obviously causing us a lot of sleep deprivation. We hired a sleep consultant and through that process, he started sleeping through in 3 days. We found ourselves thinking “what happened?” and “why were we getting this so wrong?”. It was that fascination that led me to want to understand more about it and led me to do the training course. One of my main aims is to share sleep education so other people can understand their problems with sleep and not suffer like we did.
Why is sleep so important? Why do you need to help your child sleep better?
There’s been movement in recent years about the importance of sleep – you have probably seen it more in the press. People talk about it from an adult point of view but setting that sleep standard from a young age is really vital. There are so many reasons why it’s really important that you help your children sleep better.
The key one for me is that development happens at night when a young child mainly grows. So if they are not sleeping well then that development will not happen as well as it could do.
There are also lots of links with other issues:
- Your child may be a lot grumpier in the day if they have not slept well – I think we have all been there a little bit!
- Links to obesity in children, and that’s because of some hormonal reactions that are going on in the body but also, fundamentally we know ourselves that if you are a bit tired, you will reach for the coffee or the sugary snacks to keep you going so from a health point of view, it’s really vital.
- It also helps from an immunity side of things, as our body does a lot of recovering at night time, so if you are consistently not sleeping well at night, you can become more susceptible to viruses etc.
Would you say there is a number one mistake or an underlying issue that parents make?
There is never any blame with what I do as it is about education, but the number one thing that I seem to help with is children who struggle with self settling. For example, that can mean a tiny baby that is fed to sleep or an older baby that needs a parent to jump into bed with them to fall asleep.
If a child can’t fall asleep on their own, then it’s more likely that they are going to have issues sleeping through their sleep cycles and therefore through the night. So to understand that slightly further, a sleep cycle is 45 minutes long. At the end of a sleep cycle they wake up slightly and that’s when they may look for that thing that helped them get to sleep in the first place. If you can get them to settle themselves originally, that will help them sleep for longer. A caveat on that: if you do do any of those things and your child sleeps through the night, then that is absolutely fine!
We’re coming into Spring, so wanted to ask what your top tips would be for the clocks changing?
Yeah, so it’s always a difficult time of year. Some people are questioning why we need to bother at all because it does cause so much disruption with sleep! My advice to help your children sleep better is to not do anything until the morning of the clock change. So you wake up, you change all the clocks on that morning, and start your day as you mean to go on. What it’ll mean is your normal wake up of 7am will become 8am, a false kind of lie in scenario! Then obviously bedtime becomes, rather than being 7pm, their natural body clock will want to go to bed at 8pm.
To help your children sleep better, I advise for four days to split the difference between the time change. If they normally go to bed at 7pm, try get them to go to sleep at 7.30pm for 4 days. Then revert back to 7pm. And then do the same with naps. If you have a child that is napping at 12pm, try get them to sleep for 12.30pm for 4 days. Then revert back to 12pm.
The other part is you need them to be tired earlier, so lots of activity during the day! A bit more exercise will really help them be more settled for that earlier bedtime. It shouldn’t take more than a few days to settle back into a normal routine.
Fabulous, we assume that is then the opposite for October time when the clocks go back?
Yes, absolutely, yes!
Have you any tips for helping children who suffer from night terrors or nightmares?
They can be quite frightening experiences but night terrors and nightmares are quite different. So there are different ways to help your children sleep better.
Night terrors are categorised more as a sleep disorder. They happen from the age of about three-ish, so if you have a situation like that with a child who is younger, it probably isn’t a night terror. A night terror will look like the child is not conscious. They can thrash around and they may be talking but they’re not coherent and often not looking at what they’re doing. An episode can last up to 20 minutes and then the child will just go back to sleep. They will not know a thing about it in the morning.
Whilst the night terror is occurring, do not do much apart from keep your child safe. If you wake them up in a part of a sleep cycle, it could be more frightening to them than. Ensure they are safe, stay with them and don’t interact with them too much – just let the terror ride out.
Here are the main reasons night terrors occur and how you can help your children sleep better:
- Overheating. If your child seems very hot or you have a very hot room (remembering the safe guidelines are between 16 and 22 degrees), maybe think about cooling your child’s room down.
- Overtiredness. A child that is overtired is more likely to have a night terror because they find it hard to settle. Try to elongate the nap or go for an earlier bedtime to avoid the fact you are playing with overtiredness.
- A full bladder has also been known to create night terrors. Encourage your child to go to the toilet before they go to bed, limit liquids before bedtime or lift them before you go to bed.
Nightmares happen in the second part of the night so probably from around 2am onwards. They are a component part of them waking through the more dream stage of sleep. Again that is mainly down to overtiredness. So to help your children sleep better, reduce overtiredness and encourage self settling at nap and bedtime. If a child wakes from a nightmare, they are often able to tell you about it in the morning. Do recognise those fears but don’t give them too much validity. Helping them to manage through that situation is often the better way for dealing with those.
What are your thoughts on sleep aides? Obviously there are lots of different ones out there on the market! Do they help your children sleep better?
Going back to the thoughts of self settling being the most important thing, anything that is a disruptive part of getting your child to go to sleep as a sleep aid is probably not going to help your children sleep better. Sleep aides like white noise, can be great for children to settle and to sleep for longer. It needs to be on constantly, however, so anything that that goes off after a little while or is responsive to crying is not necessarily helping the situation.
From an environment point of view, you want to make sure you are following recommendations from people like the Lullaby Trust such as creating a simple sleep space, that is not too busy and not too many toys. Anything that is too overstimulating for a child or too restrictive for a child – they could be causing potential issues.
Things like the Gro Clock are great in terms of helping an older child understand when night and day are. The negative about the Gro Clock is, it has the blue light on the screen. Blue is not good for sleep. So turn that contrast down and make sure it’s as dark as possible. Use the Gro Clock as a reference point for if your child wakes in the night. Set them a target to wake up when the sun comes up, which can help with early rising as well.
So there are some good ones and some bad ones! Generally trying to encourage your child to sleep independently is the most important thing.
Can you give us some advice about transitions and how to help your child sleep better?
Transitioning into a cot:
When you are doing that transition into their own space which is normally around 6 months, if you are using something small like a moses basket, try to spend more time in the new room. Start off by doing naps in the room and then when you’re ready to transition them into sleeping in there at night, you can put the moses basket into the cot space so it’s not so overwhelming. After a few days of doing that, just transition them into their space. Often they sleep a bit better in a separate space and with more space for them to roam. It’s quite a straight forward transition: people often are more concerned about it than they need to be – just be ready to do it and hopefully you will see an improvement or more consistent sleep.
Transitioning into a bed:
When it gets to the older age, one big mistake people make is moving them too early as they may not understand the freedom they have. The recommendation I have is to not move them into a bed/cot bed with the sides down until they are 2.5 years unless you have a cot jumper (someone who climbs out of the cot). If your child doesn’t sleep well in a cot, it doesn’t necessarily help you by taking down the sides.
Tips to help transition into a bed:
- Make a bigger deal about it so they are conscious of what is going on.
- Choose their bedding – go to the shop together to choose.
- Make it a comfy space for them so they are happy to settle in there new bed
- Buy a bed bumper or even just roll up a towel so they don’t fall out
- Work with boundaries if they are getting out of bed, so that they know the sleep space is theirs. Take them back and keep repeating that – making sure they know what the new world of sleep looks like.
It doesn’t need to be a nightmare transition!
Kate also helped Jemma’s eldest son, who is the same age as her son. He was a nightmare sleeper but he now sleeps through the night!