I am personally obsessed with this topic. Sleep. I wish I wasn’t so obsessed, but I am because I am the lucky mother of a toddler who is a terrible sleeper. How do I get my child to self-soothe? How do I keep our 2.5YO from keeping big sister, mommy and daddy having sleepless nights without “rescuing” said screaming child from his crib at 3am? Listen, I’m drinking way too much coffee and blowing through way too much undereye concealer to get through my day. I know I’m not alone. Let’s meet Brooke Nalle, a sleep consultant, mother of 3 and founder of “Sleepy on Hudson”...perhaps she can provide a little advice and offer us hope to a better night of z’s in the future!
SSP: Brooke, please tell us a little about yourself and how you became the sleep expert that you are!
When I was expecting my first child, I prepared for breastfeeding and birth, but I had no idea how to handle sleep and the lack thereof. Sleep deprivation hit hard, and I really struggled personally and professionally for the first year of my son's life. Quite frankly, it was hard to enjoy being a new parent because I was tired and stressed about sleep for most of this time. I read book after book and took in any nugget of sleep advice I could gather at the playground; but in the end, I didn't really find my answer until I switched up my point of view on sleep and looked at my situation as an educator (my training and background) rather than as a defeated parent. I decided to choose an approach that was right for my son developmentally, tailored to his temperament, and supportive of our parenting style. I could finally be consistent this way, and it worked. I helped friends and their friends until my personal hobby became my professional calling. I trained with Kim West and am one of her first 50 sleep consultants. I expanded my training with work in medical sleep issues such as GERD and sleep apnea as well as work with Lynn Lyons, an anxiety expert.
SSP: How did “Sleepy on Hudson” come to be? What is it specifically that you offer families facing sleeping issues?
When I started Sleepy on Hudson, I envisioned helping local families here in the Rivertowns (a series of towns just north of the city on the Hudson River), but I soon ended up helping families down river in Manhattan and then Brooklyn... and now I have clients across the country and even as far away as Uganda and Israel. At Sleepy on Hudson, we drill down to the individual sleeper, focusing on his developmental picture, temperament, and family style. We ignore the chatter and various advice streams out there and focus on a family's unique situation. I have trained our consultants individually and make sure that we offer the right fit for each family looking for help. We meet in home or virtually, and we also offer overnight support.
SSP: Let’s start with little babies. How do we instill positive sleep practices and get started on the right foot at a very young age?
I think it can be really hard to do the right thing right away when your baby is very young. In fact, some babies really do need the 4th trimester and have to be held more often than not. However beginning around three months, most families can begin to slowly transfer sleep independence by shaping schedules, routines, and sleep behaviors that form the foundations of a good sleeper. I see a lot of families who still parent like they have a newborn when now they have a more capable baby. We can help a family navigate this transition. That said, don't stress, it is never too late to get a good sleeper. We help 3 month olds and 3 year olds learn to sleep well for the first time.
SSP: Is there an age when our babies should be on a set sleep routine? Speaking of “routine” - how important is it that we stick to one for sleep schedules?
You can begin a sleep routine right away and certainly between 2 and 3 months you can solidify a sleep routine and bedtime. At Sleepy, we like to say shape a schedule rather than set a schedule especially when working with young babies. However I do find that my best sleepers come from days that follow a good schedule with clear feeding and nap times. If you go off schedule, it's ok! Just try to get back on track as soon as you can - or wait to sleep train when you can nail down 2-3 weeks of home time to define and set a good schedule.
SSP: It’s not always easy to get our children to self-soothe. Do you have any advice to share? It’s SO easy in the middle of the night to just take the child to bed with us so that we can all go back to sleep as quickly as possible. Is that the right solution?
You have a few options here. If you like just bringing them to bed and going back to sleep, and that is working for you and your child (and you are doing if safely) then that's great. However if you know that you don't want to have a baby in your bed forever, then you do need to be proactive and teach your child to love his crib. You can also do some self soothing work at bedtime and at naps if you are too exhausted in the middle of the night. However to be honest, sleep training is not as miserable as you might think, and if you have the right plan for your baby and you, then you can see positive changes in under a week - so perhaps worth a few tough nights?
SSP: Not to get too personal here (but I am)...when my husband is around for bedtime, he often rocks our 2.5 YO toddler until he falls asleep on him, then puts him to bed. I’m convinced this is not helping a child who already has issues self-soothing. What is the right approach to bedtime?
Yes, this is tricky! I often work with parents who approach bedtime/sleep differently. However rocking an older child to sleep can be problematic especially as they get older, smarter (more aware) and get more independence. I think when you guide a child to learn how to soothe himself you are giving your child the gift of sleep - it is so empowering to give your child the space to learn how to do this his way. Just like riding a bike or reading, learning to sleep is hard at first but it quickly becomes natural and liberating.
SSP: A question we’ve all discussed a million times. When do we know it’s the right time to drop the nap?
For an older child, it is good to shorten it and then drop it when it interferes with night sleep. For example, if your three year old naps from 1-3pm but then only sleeps from 9pm to 5am. Understand though that dropping a nap is a bit of a tricky transition, and there will be rocky days.
SSP: For those of us puffy-eyed moms and dads who have been struggling with sleep issues, what is your best piece of advice?
Get a plan together, mark your days on the calendar, and get someone to cheer for you and hold you to it. You should not have to do this alone. You can work with a sleep professional or a good friend - but if you are at your limit personally then tap out and get some help!
To learn more about Sleepy on Hudson and the programs they provide, go to http://www.sleepyonhudson.com/