Sleep Training: Why This Mum Invited A Stranger To Stay Overnight To Solve Her Babies' Sleep Problems

How Inviting A Stranger To Stay Overnight Solved This Mum's Sleep Problems

Many new parents know only too well how sleep deprivation can impact their lives, but for some mums and dads it becomes too much to bear.

After exhausting all options when her 10-month-old twin girls wouldn't sleep for more than three hours a night, Jade Gittins, from London, opted to invite a sleep trainer into her home for two nights.

"The impact the twins' poor sleep was having was far reaching," she told The Huffington Post UK. "I dreaded each night and regardless of what happened I had to deal with the girls during the day.

"With twins that wasn't exactly a walk in the park, even on a full night's sleep."

Jade Gittins, her husband and their twin girls

Gittins said she had fallen into a habit of bringing her girls into bed with her and although it made them fall asleep, it stopped her sleeping.

Gittins enlisted the help of sleep trainer, Annie Simpson from Infant Sleep Consultant.

Simpson spent two nights at the Gittins' family home - followed by a week's email support for the mum and dad.

"Annie talked us through the different sleep training methods because she felt it was important that we chose something that would be manageable for our family," Gittins said.

"She taught us belief in the process and confidence to be able to deal with helping our girls sleep."

Gittins said she was given information, methods and case examples to use with her twins, one of which included 'controlled crying'.

"We had decided to use the 'controlled crying' method and were told to reassure the girls every three to five minutes when they cried," she explained.

"It didn't sound like too long in theory, but it was really hard and there were definitely moments when I wanted to quit, thinking that the broken sleep felt more appealing. I also wondered if we had babies that it just wouldn't work on.

"Annie kept us calm so when we went in to reassure the twins, they wouldn't pick up on our anxiety. It took nearly 45 minutes of one or both the girls crying before they went to sleep.

"They slept right through until 6.30am the first night we tried it, which already felt like a step in the right direction."

By the third night, Gittins said she and her husband "didn't look back". Her twins now go to sleep at 7pm and wake 12 hours later.

Sleep training isn't a new phenomenon, but an option not many parents know they can turn to.

What is sleep training all about?

Sleep training looks at the process of helping a baby learn to get to sleep and stay asleep through the night unaided.

"It's all about a process that teaches the baby/child to learn to sleep independently, without the props that they had become reliant on," Simpson from Infant Sleep Consultant told The Huffington Post UK.

"These props can be everything from a dummy, to being fed or rocked to sleep. When the baby comes into their lighter sleep, they need those props to resettle and so the parent is woken many times in the night."

Sleep trainers, also known as sleep consultants, complete NHS trust sleep practitioner certificates. The International Maternity Institute also offers advanced sleep training for consultants.

"I prefer to use the word ‘sleep plan’ when I talk about helping families with their children’s sleep," Maryanne Taylor from The Sleep Works explained.

"I believe that helping a baby or child with their sleep is not just about using a sleep approach but about looking at the situation holistically."

Taylor explained there are many elements that could potentially affect a child's ability to sleep.

This could be medical reasons, timings of the day, how they associate with sleep and others around them. She explained 'sleep plans' incorporate all these elements that potentially could be affecting a child's sleep, together with an approach that suits the family.

Simpson agreed that training will always be developed to suit the individual child. An initial appointment with a sleep trainer because your child is struggling to sleep, will always start with parents filling out sleep history notes.

"We then eliminate the reasons for waking: hunger, followed by pain/discomfort (we have many Reflux babies) and finally, habit," she said.

At what point does a parent go to a sleep trainer?

Gittins turned to a sleep trainer for a few reasons: she was having an unhealthy maximum of three hours sleep a night but also, her tiredness was impacting her relationship with her husband.

"Quite simply, my husband and I couldn't take it anymore," she said.

"The lack of sleep was having a big impact on our relationship. Calling Annie was our last resort, we had to throw the towel in otherwise the alternative would have taken us down a continued negative path."

Taylor said parents get in touch with her at any stage from the early weeks and months with a newborn, all the way through to later childhood.

"I help lots of families with older babies, toddlers and older children who have either always had sleep problems or have developed a sleep problem," she said.

Simpson agreed that there is no specific age that parents come to her with their children's sleep problems, it is determined more by how the mum or dad is feeling mentally.

"Parents contact us when the exhaustion has become too much, they have had confidence failure and are feeling quite despondent about it all," she said.

"They come to us when they hit the brick wall of tiredness and this can happen at different times.

"Some parents come to us within the first year of their baby's life and some do not contact us until well into todder/childhood."

What is involved if you want your child to have sleep training?

A sleep trainer might stay over at your house for a night to understand how often your child wakes up, but a lot of the support comes from teaching parents to train their children themselves.

"I felt it was necessary for us to have Annie for two nights, so that my husband and I could each have a one-on-one with Annie," Gittins explained.

"After her visit, we had a week's email support so we could tell Annie about the nights and ask her questions. The skills she equipped us with we still use; and I suspect will remain with us forever."

For the majority of sleep training consultants, parents will get an initial free chat with the sleep trainer to discuss what the issues are, details of the sleep problems and what support is available to them.

Practically, the sleep training can take many different avenues. Taylor said many parents opt for simple phone consultations, which can be up to an hour long, to discuss the issues, ask questions and be given information on different approaches they can use with their children.

However other parents may opt for an entire sleep plan. This will include a consultation over the phone, Skype sessions, a schedule that includes naps, meals and bedtime, follow-up suggestions to support the sleep plan and detailed discussions of future options.

All parents will receive information about typical "good sleep habits" and gentle sleeping techniques. Email and phone support is always available to parents when they are using these methods to allow a constant dialogue between the trainer and the parent.

Simpson said they are very honest with parents that there is no "magic wand" approach to sleep training, but a range of different methods that suit different families.

"Quite simply, we book in a consultation and talk the parents through why their baby is waking, the changes that will need to take place in order for them to sleep and how to make that happen," she added.

"We want to make sure that by the time we leave, they have the confidence to tackle the weeks/months ahead."

What are some of the techniques sleep trainers use?

As Gittins explained, "controlled crying" was one of the techniques she was taught, but she was also told how to differentiate between her twin girls' cries.

"It meant we would leave them if they were moaning but always go in to reassure them if they were crying properly," she added.

Taylor said sleep advice depends on so many things, including the age of the child, personality, and what their issue with sleep is.

"But if you had to ask me the one thing that I say to all my parents, it is to be consistent," Taylor said.

"This is the key to success of helping a child sleep well. Keeping consistent actually lessens the frustrations (and crying) of a child and makes the process so much easier.

"So often parents tell me that they have 'tried everything' to help their child sleep and proceed to give me a long list of different things. Therein often lies the problem. Decide on which process is right and go for it totally consistently."

Simpson agreed that consistency is always the difference between a sleep plan working and not working.

"Our advice is always to make sure that the plan feels manageable and stick to it," she said.

"The most common area where it all unravels is when the doubt starts to creep in in the middle of the night and parents worry that something else is wrong.

"We tell our parents to stay calm, be confident about what they are doing and remain consistent. The long term benefit to them all really does outweigh the short term distress."

Gittins said she believes more parents struggling with sleep deprivation need help with specialised trainers.

"I strongly believe the NHS should fund a sleep training programme for parents who have babies struggling to sleep through the night," she said.

"The impact lack of sleep has is so extreme for the whole family and our lives pre-Annie compared to post-Annie are vastly different."

Prices of sleep trainers vary depending on length of consultations and intervention needed. For more information, visit The Sleep Works and Infant Sleep Consultant.