My daughter and bedtime have never been a good combination. I messed it up pretty early by going against my intuition and then family disruption early on made for bedtime hell. Years of nonsense and now finally aged 7 I just let her sleep in my bed. She is happier than ever and I have a lot of disappointment we battled so long when actually there was a lot of underlying fear and rejections going on for her, and a lot of loss of identity going on for me. I wish I had known that you can hire a Sleep Coach back then so I reached out to Jessica Scott-Dye of Starbright Sleep Consulting to find out more. 

Hi Jessica, welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum (or dad) should have to do everything herself, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that!  I love that you have upgraded the lives of many parents by supporting them with their sleep expectations, challenges and empowered them to do what feels right for them.

Can you tell us what the holistic approach to sleep is? 

The word “holistic” is used widely in the sleep coaching world, so it is important to challenge the person you are working with about what the term means to them.  I’m a certified Holistic Sleep Coach, so for me the word “holistic” means looking at a sleep challenge in the wider context of any number of other things going on in that baby or child’s life, including diet, exercise, nutrition, sensory needs, developmental stage, routine and more.  

The idea is that sleep challenges do not occur in a vacuum – so disturbed nights are often linked to what is happening in the day, for example.  A good sleep coach will work with the family to decode what is going on.  Often, once the reason for a sleep challenge has been unlocked, the problem becomes easier to solve.  

Is there a potential negative impact of harsh sleep training techniques on children

The truth is that there is a lot we just don’t know about the effects of harsher sleep training techniques (such as controlled crying or cry-it-out) on children.  Studies have been done into those techniques and have concluded that leaving a child alone to cry is not harmful.  Three main studies in particular (Hiscock [2008], Price [2012], and Fradisar [2012]) get a lot of press and are often cited as justification for harsher sleep training methods.  

However, if you look at those studies in more detail, they aren’t perfect, so I always encourage families to apply a critical eye when deciding how to proceed.  For example, the mother/infant pairs that were studied lacked racial and ethnic diversity; lots of families dropped out of the studies which impacted on the efficacy of the follow up work the researchers were doing, and some of the methods used to measure stress response and infant attachment have been criticised as being inappropriate or ineffective.  

Family bonds and attachment are so important that it is important to me to avoid advocating any sleep strategy that risks challenging attachment.  I don’t feel comfortable drawing blanket conclusions from the studies cited above to support harsh sleep training methods; my preference is to find another way.  I have consciously excluded all crying alone methods from my practice because I believe parents who work with a sleep coach want and deserve more than this.  I have a range of sleep strategies in my toolbox and they all focus on building, rather than challenging, attachment. 

What is your definition of Gentle Sleep Strategies? 

“Gentle” is another one of those words used by lots of sleep coaches to mean different things, so I’m really glad you asked this question.  There isn’t a universally accepted definition of the term in the sleep world, so all I can explain is what it means to me.  My definition of “gentle” means lots of different things.  Obviously it includes never leaving a child alone to cry, but it also goes much further than this. 

You might come across sleep coaching methods in books that advocate things like avoiding eye contact, not picking your baby up or otherwise withholding a response from them when they’re seeking comfort, so even if you are in the same room as them you are effectively being told to ignore them.  I don’t subscribe to this at all.  I want the families I work with to follow their instincts to provide whatever comfort and closeness their child needs.  Yes it might make the overall process longer, but my approach is about making sustainable sleep changes over time, rather than making quick fixes that might not last.  

To me, being gentle also means being respectful in making small changes over time – for example, if you want to change how your baby falls asleep, and also where they fall asleep, we would tackle one element at a time, and we would go at your child’s own pace.  We would break the overall goal down into smaller chunks, and this way changes tend to be easier to implement. 

I can’t promise no tears, but I do try my best to come up with solutions that minimise tears wherever possible, and this is something I always discuss with families during a consultation. 

Finally, gentle to me also means respecting family goals and working with them.  For example, if you want to make some changes whilst continuing to practice things like (safe) co-sleeping or feeding to sleep – things that traditional sleep coaches might advise against – we can incorporate these preferences into your sleep plan.

I love the concept of sleep hygiene as a way to promote good quality, restful and restorative sleep.  Can you share some sleep hygiene tips? 

Oh yes, definitely.  Effective sleep hygiene is such a powerful way of optimising sleep without making any changes your little one will even particularly notice!  Lots of people will have heard about the sleep hygiene basics, including introducing a consistent bedtime routine, keeping the bedroom dark and quiet overnight, using white noise (which should be on constantly and not switched off by a timer if you use it) and introducing a comforter and/or scent.  

These are all really helpful sleep hygiene tools, but I would also encourage you to build effective sleep hygiene into your overall day, rather than thinking about it at bedtime only.  For example, is your child eating a varied diet, avoiding sugary/caffeinated foods late in the day? Are they getting plenty of opportunities for fresh air and exercise during the day?  Are they being exposed to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark over a 24 hour period?  Is screen time well managed and not happening too late in the day?  Are naps well spaced over the day to maintain that balance between sleep pressure and overtiredness that can affect how quickly and easily your little one goes down at bedtime?

What question do you get most as a sleep coach? 

One of the most common questions is around daytime naps, and specifically how to elongate naps.  This can cause parents lots of stress, particularly if they have read their child should be achieving a two hour lunchtime nap for example, and it isn’t happening for any reason.  People have different definitions of “cat naps” but the common perception I hear is that cat naps are sub-standard in some way, and not as effective as a longer nap. 

The first thing I always explore in response to this is whether the child’s current nap routine is working for them.  By this I mean what is their nighttime sleep like? What is their mood like when they wake from the nap and progress through the day?  If everything else is fine, it might just be that your little one is naturally inclined towards shorter naps – and there is no problem with this.  

However, if there are other sleep challenges present and naps seem short compared to the average sleep needs of a child the same age, then I do often explore ways of elongating naps.  A common trick is to contact nap for the nap of the day you want to be the long one.  It can often be easier to keep a child asleep or re-settle a child during a contact nap than if they are asleep in their own cot/bed.  

Otherwise, another trick is to measure the typical length of the child’s nap, and go to them a couple of minutes before they would normally stir.  You can then experiment with different ways of soothing them into the next sleep cycle if they start to rouse.  For example, do they respond to a gentle “shhh, shhh”, to a hand on their stomach or to a little rub or pat?  There may be some experimentation necessary to work out what your little one likes, but this can be an effective tool to gently encourage a longer nap where you feel this is needed. 

How can people work with you? 

I am contactable via my website, by email at [email protected] or by telephone on 07307 849 335.  When I take on new clients I always start with a complimentary telephone call to understand a bit about your family and the situation you are in, and how I might be able to help.  If you decide to proceed I offer a range of individual and group support packages to suit different families’ needs.  

You can find out more at follow Jessica on Instagram.

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