Family Sleep in the Wall Street Journal

September 27, 2011 at 11:05 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

By ELIZABETH GARONE

Ah, a blissful night of sleep—until a cry rips through the quiet: Waaah. Mo-ommy! Daddeee!

One sleep consultant’s bedtime rule for 3-year-old Zoe: No talking to Mom or Dad, but whispering to Cat, her favorite stuffed animal, was allowed.

As a sleep-deprived family of four, we were prepared to throw money at this problem to regain our rest (and sanity). Luckily, there is no shortage of businesses designed to collect that money. So we put to the test three consultants with expertise in putting kids to sleep, as well as a do-it-yourself approach based on websites devoted to the subject. The advice included dramatic changes to the bedtime routine, reward stickers, white noise, better daytime naps, even recorded affirmations read by a “Sleep Fairy.”

The challenger in our tests: our 3-year-old daughter Zoe, who we spend hours getting to sleep only for her to awaken in the middle of the night, calling for Mom, disrupting the sleep of her 7-year-old sister.

Kim West, a licensed social worker and mother of two, has worked with families around the country over the past 15 years. Demand for Ms. West, aka the Sleep Lady, is so high, we had to book the appointment a month in advance. That allowed time to read certain chapters in her book, “The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight,” as well as fill out an extensive history form, prerequisites for a 60-minute phone consult for one child. Parents with two or more kids or who don’t have time to read the book can sign up for a 90-minute session.

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Elizabeth Garone/The Wall Street Journal

The consultants stressed establishing a nighttime routine. For Zoe that means brushing teeth, getting friends ready for bed and a story.

Ms. West recorded the session and emailed a link to it so we didn’t have to take notes. We also appreciated that she didn’t rush us off the phone when our session went over.

We found her approach a little intimidating and labor-intensive. Her sleep plan involved a number of steps as well as dramatic changes to our bedtime routine, such as no talking to Mom and Dad after being tucked in. Zoe had to lie quietly in her bed and only whisper to Cat, her favorite stuffed animal. Still, the plan was easy to follow and having her book to refer to came in handy.

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Elizabeth Garone/The Wall Street Journal

Zoe and friends getting ready for bed.

Ms. West’s plan started with a family meeting where we would introduce a sleep sticker chart, which we would use to reward Zoe on mornings when she followed the rules. From there, we needed to establish a consistent bedtime routine and implement the Sleep Lady Shuffle: For the first three nights, we sat in a chair next to her bed; the next three nights, we moved to a chair just inside the door; then down the hall, and so on until she was supposed to put herself to sleep. She never did.

The plan’s most difficult requirement, at least for us, was that we had to refrain from getting into bed with Zoe at bedtime. She protested every night. It wasn’t long before we were back in bed with her with the plan to try the Shuffle again in a few months.

Deborah Pedrick, the founder of Family Sleep, a consultancy in Stamford, Conn., offers consultations by email. We had the choice of one day or three days’ worth of email; we chose the latter. Ms. Pedrick offers in-person and phone consults, but she says many clients prefer email for convenience and price ($60 for three days versus $295 for a package that includes an hour phone consult).

When she heard we were using music through the night to help Zoe sleep, she told us to switch to the less-disruptive white noise. Of course, Zoe found the change quite disruptive and complained about the “awful sound” coming from the machine.
[CRANKYjp1] Elizabeth Garone/The Wall Street Journal

Zoe choosing a story.

Ms. Pedrick’s most helpful advice: When Zoe doesn’t nap, she needs to go to sleep a lot earlier. Otherwise, she will get overtired, and it will take longer to fall asleep, she said. Zoe was down in unprecedented five minutes the first time.

Sleep expert Kate Daymond in St. Albans, England, offered us the option of Skype or phone, and we chose an hour Skype consult. Upon witnessing her British accent and calm demeanor, images of Mary Poppins swooping in and solving our sleep problems danced in our heads. She asked how “cross we were with the situation at the moment” and whether we were feeling “cheesed” about it. Having two children herself, she wasn’t fazed when our girls peered into the camera and chatted away about themselves.

Her first recommendation was a star-sticker chart to reward Zoe whenever she followed the new sleep rules, such as having minimal physical contact if we were in the bed with her (no snuggling, just lying still). She instructed us to start the rules with Zoe’s naps and get them under control before moving on to the nighttime routine. This proved a little difficult since Zoe doesn’t nap consistently.

Her plan also included going into Zoe’s room and “checking” on her every few minutes to reassure her Mom and Dad were nearby. Ms. Daymond suggested sitting outside the room with a chair and a cup of tea between checks. The moment we tried this, Zoe protested quite loudly and only stopped when we came back in her room—and into her bed.

To address Zoe’s playing and procrastinating when she should be asleep at 9:00 p.m., Ms. Daymond said it was up to us as parents to make the environment as unexciting as possible for her. “Try to be like a bored shop assistant. If you’re there saying, ‘Let’s have another story,’ there’s no reason for her to fall asleep,” she said.

For our D-I-Y plan, we ordered “The Sleep Fairy” CD and “The Floppy Sleep Game” CD from Amazon.com. We also ordered “The Bedtime Beats: The Secrets to Sleep” CD, with classical songs that cycle at 60 to 80 beats per minute to mimic a resting heart beat, and the Marpac SleepMate 980A, a white-noise machine like Ms. Pedrick had suggested. While neither the Bedtime Beats nor the white noise put the girls to sleep faster, they did seem to help calm them faster.

“The Floppy Sleep Game” is about 20 minutes of songs, nature sounds and gentle yoga techniques that can be done lying in bed. The kids liked it but didn’t appear anywhere close to being sleepy afterward.

“The Sleep Fairy” CD offered 30 minutes of positive affirmations and relaxing images read by a woman with a slightly cloying voice. At the end, everyone (except Dad) was awake. Gabby, our 7-year-old, announced, “That was really long, wasn’t it?” Zoe balked at the CD at first, but after a few nights of it, she started asking for it and it became part of her bedtime routine.

While no one approach proved to be the answer for us, Ms. West’s plan and book seemed to give Zoe—and us—the best chance for a good night’s sleep.

Wall Street Journal: 9/27/11 – Cranky Consumer

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