What is a sleep consultant
(and how do I know if I need to use one?)
Many parents (and clinicians/practitioners) don’t
know that sleep coaches (or sleep consultants) even exist.
It’s actually a growing sector of the parent support industry;
however, it’s a field that is not currently regulated and
coaches may have a variety of types and depths of training
(or none at all). With the right training, a sleep consultant can
be an effective adjunct to therapeutic work.
What do sleep coaches do?
Sleep coaches/consultants can (and should) assess the family and the child. I gather information about the child’s health history (gestation, birth, milestones, health, feeding and sleep behaviors, and any markers of physiological problems). Some coaches may also gather information about the child’s temperament, what parents have tried and what they’re currently doing, as well as parents’ levels of fatigue and potential depressive symptoms.
This information helps to guide the identification of the source of the problem, while ruling out other factors that may inform the parents’ report of a sleep problem (expectations, development, etc.). Coaches may then look at sleep amount, sleep timing and what parents are currently doing to help their baby/child get to sleep. Consultants can help parents create a plan of action based on the particular coach’s orientation/training and then provide follow-up to monitor, provide feedback and encouragement.
How can clinicians/practitioners use sleep consultants?
Sleep often can come up as a topic in a mental health counseling, lactation, occupational therapy, pediatric or other settings. (And mental health issues can also arise in a sleep consultation). Sleep consultants can work within and in conjunction with a variety of contexts. For example, an OT sees parents of a 15-month-old for sensory issues. Sensory issues can directly impact sleep behavior. Merely applying a standard behavioral sleep protocol might not work for a reactive, sensitive child. If a mom is anxious or depressed, sleep approaches that require enduring a lot of crying may also not work. Some sleep coaches employ a gradual approach that allows more parental presence and soothing, with a gradual fading of those behaviors or they can adapt the approach to fit the parents’ unique contexts.
What should I look for?
Not all sleep consultants are trained or certified. Inquire about their background and whether they have advanced degrees in child development, infant mental health, or counseling/social work. Also inquire about their training and whether they receive (or have received) supervision. Sleep consultants can often be the “boots on the ground” working with parents who are also in mental health counseling.
Directory of Certified Gentle Sleep Coaches (almost all coaches can work remotely)