Interview with Kate Cohen, from Sleep Time Baby

We are here today with Kate Cohen, a certified sleep consultant and member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants, who is going to answer a few of our questions, with regard to helping our children sleep a bit better ready for Sleep Awareness Week.

Firstly we just wanted to introduce Kate, how long you have been doing Sleep Time Baby for and how did you get into it?

So, I set up Sleep Time Baby nearly 3 years ago now and it was born out of my son who at the age of 2 never really slept through the night 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 like 3 days. We found ourselves thinking ‘what happened?’ ‘Why were we getting this so wrong?’ and it was that fascination that led me to want to understand more about it and led me to do the training course and to basically help other people. 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.

Kate also helped my son, who is the same age as her son, he was a nightmare sleeper but she did a wonderful job and he now sleeps through the night!

Just wanted to ask, why is sleep so important?

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 because there are many reasons, the key one for me is that development happens at night: a young child will grow mainly at night time so if they are not sleeping well then that development will not happen as well. There are also lots of links with other issues so for example 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 but you also have the more serious links to things like obesity in children have been linked to sleep, 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, so 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, so those are just a few things in terms of the importance of sleep!

And through all the people you have seen over the years, would you say there is a number one mistake or an underlying issue that seems to come up with all of your clients?

Yeah, probably and there is never any blame with what I do as it is about education as I said, the number one thing that children suffer with from sleep is that they can’t settle themselves to sleep, so that’s self settling is basic terms and that can mean a tiny baby that is fed to sleep to 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 the night and that’s them sleeping through their sleep cycles. 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, so, 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, it’s just if you are looking to make changes. That is probably the biggest thing I talk about is self settling.

Absolutely, that was definitely  our mistake with our son!

So we just wanted to talk through some of your top tips on some of the topics that we have been talking about this week. 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 and actually some people are questioning why we need to bother at all because it does cause so much disruption with sleep really. The way I look at it is try to slightly take the pressure off, because some people talk about building up to the event – my advice is to not really do anything until the morning of the clock change so you wake up, you change all the clocks in the house on that morning, and start your day as you mean to go on. What it’ll mean is your normal wake up of 7 o’clock will become 8 o’clock, a false kind of lie in scenario, but to manage that change because obviously bedtime becomes, rather than being 7 o’clock, their natural body clock will want to go to bed at 8 o’clock, it becomes about managing what might be happening. My advice is for four days, to split the difference between the time change, so if they normally go to bed at 7 o’clock, they’ll feel like going to sleep at 8 o’clock, but try and get them to go to sleep at 7.30pm for 4 days and then revert back to 7 o’clock. And then do that the same with naps, if you have a child that is napping at lunchtime, so they are napping around 12pm, then it would be 1 o’clock, so you would go for 12.30pm for 4 days then revert back to what you know. That’s the kind of fundamentals things but the other part is you are going to want them to be tired more early, so lots of activity, making sure they are running around bit, a bit more exercise will really help them be more settled for that time, and then keeping a watchful eye on what is going on with the early waking as sometimes when the clocks change and obviously it’s getting brighter in the mornings, you want to keep a consistent approach to that to help them settle into the new time change. It shouldn’t take more than a few days to settle back into a normal routine.

Fabulous, I am assuming that is then the opposite for October time when the clocks go back and it starts to get dark?

Yes, absolutely, yes!

Now, I’m not sure if you will have answers to this as I’m not sure if it is within your remit of sleep or if it is to do with the child individually but things like tips for children who suffer from night terrors or nightmares and how to support a child with those?

Yeah sure, so often they can be quite frightening experiences but they are quite different actually. Firstly to talk about night terrors which are kinda 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 something that the child is not conscious, they can thrash around, they may be talking but they’re not coherent and often looking at what they’re doing. An episode can last up to 20 minutes and then the child will just go back to sleep and they will not know a thing about it in the morning, so the advice on dealing with those in that moment is not to do much apart from keep your child safe, because what’s happening is they’re stuck in a part of a sleep cycle so you waking them up could be more frightening to them than them actually dealing with it and trying to shake them out of out it almost. Keeping them safe, making sure they are ok, staying with them, probably not interacting with them too much, just let the terror ride out. The reason night terrors occur, science will tell you it’s probably from 3 main reasons:

  1. Overheating – so 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.
  2. Overtiredness – a child that is overtired is more likely to have a night terror because they find it hard to settle. If your child is overtired, try to elongate the nap or mainly try to go for an earlier bedtime to avoid the fact you are playing with overtiredness.
  3. A full bladder has also been known to create night terrors, so perhaps encourage your child to go to the toilet before they go to bed, or limiting liquids before bedtime or lifting them before you go to bed: those sorts of things can help with night terrors.

Those are the main things that should help with night terrors but they shouldn’t be a long term issue if you look to address those.

Nightmares, are different – they happen in the second part of the night so probably from around 2am onwards and they are a component part of them waking through the more dream stage of sleep really. Again that is mainly down to overtiredness so think about addressing that, making sure that your child is self settling. It’s a bit more of a conscious action so if a child wakes from a nightmare, they are often able to tell you about it in the morning, so recognise those fears, don’t give them too much validity, but help them to manage through that situation, it is often the better way for dealing with those.

Ok great, so another one for us is sleep aides, what are your thoughts on sleep aides? Obviously there are lots of different ones out there on the market – there’s Euan the Sheep, you’ve got your groclock, the sleep pod etc, what are your thoughts on those?

Ok so if you go back to the early 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 child go to sleep. There are a couple of things that can help but things like white noise, can be great for children to settle and to sleep for longer, but it needs to be on constantly so anything that may be an animal or bird, that goes off after a little while or is responsive to crying is not necessarily helping the situation because it needs to be on constantly to do the job properly. From an environment point of view, you want to make sure you are following recommendations from people like the Lullaby Trust, simple sleep space, not too busy, not too many toys, all those sort of things so just making sure you are creating that environment so that anything that is too overstimulating for a child or too restrictive for a child, that then could be causing potential issues. Things like the Gro Clock are great in terms of helping an older child understand when night time is and when morning is, so those sort of things I do advocate, the one thing about the Gro Clock is, it has the blue light on the screen, and that is not great for sleep, blue is not good for sleep so you want to turn that contrast down and make sure it’s as dark as possible. So, use the Gro Clock, use it as a reference point for if your child wakes in the night, set them a target to wake up when the sun comes up, that can help with early rising as well.

So there are some good ones and some bad ones but generally try to encourage your child to sleep independently is the most important thing.

Ok, fantastic, so the last one I wanted to talk to you about is the transition from the crib, so sleeping in the same room as mum and dad, to cot where they have more space and can find it a little intimidating and then also the big transition from the cot to the bed, where they have the sides come down, I know there are some children , my friend’s little one did it, didn’t move, was completely oblivious to the fact the sides were off and stayed there, to my son who clocked it within a minute of the sides coming off and we never got him in his bed again. So just wanted to know if you had any tips for those transitions as well?

Yeah, sure so when you are doing that transition into their own space which is normally around 6 months, if you are using a moses basket or something that’s small enough, the idea and the suggestion is to spend more time in that room, so maybe doing naps in the room and then when you’re ready to transition them into sleeping in there, you can put the moses basket or crib side set ups 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.

When it gets to the older age, one big mistake people make is moving them too early, so the recommendation I have is to not move them into a bed or cot bed with the sides down until they are 2.5 years, or else they do not understand the freedom that they have, so unless you have a cot jumper i.e someone who climbs out of the cot, just hold off because you are probably better keeping them in that scenario then moving them out before then. If you have a child that doesn’t sleep well in a cot, it doesn’t necessarily help you by taking down the sides because they’ll just be up and at it, so tips to do it would be

  1. Make a bigger deal about it so they are conscious of what is going on.
  2. Choose their bedding, go to the shop together to choose.
  3. Make it a comfy space for them so they are happy to settle in there new bed
  4. Buy a bed bumper or even just roll up a towel so they don’t fall out
  5. Work with boundaries, if they are getting out of bed, so that they know the sleep space is theirs, take them back, keep repeating that, making sure they know what the new world of sleep looks like.

It doesn’t need to be a nightmare transisiton.

That is amazing, thank you so much for that and thank you so much for your time Kate.

So that was our interview with Kate Cohen from Sleep Time Baby – you will get her on Facebook and Instagram, she is about to start a new 5 day sleep challenge starting on Monday 11th March – 5 days of sleep information and education to help you understand what might be going on with your child’s sleep and improve it.