COACHES HAVE ZZZ ANSWERS FOR KIDS WHO CAN'T SLEEP.
For new mother Stephanie Rocca, getting baby Harlow to sleep was a nightmare.
Despite nearly an hour of swaddling, rocking and bouncing, the infant would never stay down.
The Santa Monica mom was up at least three times a night and the baby refused to nap during the day unless she was in her mother's arms.
The family pediatrician assured her Harlow would grow out of it. But she didn't.
``It was unbelievable,'' said Rocca. ``If she wasn't eating or sleeping, she was crying.''
Eventually, Rocca was holding the baby 10 hours a day, unable even to go to the bathroom without Harlow on her lap.
Rocca isn't alone in her plight. Many children, from infants to preschoolers, even older, have difficulty navigating the rocky road to dreamland.
According to a National Sleep Foundation study, two-thirds of all children under the age of 10 experience one or more sleep problems at least three nights a week. Difficulties range from stalling or resisting going to bed to snoring and sleepwalking.
For sleep problems that just won't go away, the latest solution is the ``sleep coach.''
When Rocca became desperate, she called Brentwood-based Sleepy Planet, one of a growing number of firms across the country that teach exhausted, fed-up parents how to get their restless kids to fall asleep. Although there is no professional accreditation or organization for sleep coaches, most who do this are licensed social workers or clinical psychologists who specialize in pediatrics.
Sleepy Planet founders Jill Spivack and Jennifer Waldburger, both social workers, design a range of customized programs for parents of problem sleepers. The process starts with a one- to two-hour consultation at their office to discuss details like when the child sleeps, how dark the room is, family life and the parents' sleep expectations.
Get an early start
Most cases take less than a week to solve. ``You can start to sleep train a child at 4 months or 14 pounds,'' says Spivack, who checks the progress of her clients daily by phone.
Fees range from a $19.95 instructional CD to a full-on $595 consultation including a week of follow-up by phone.
For the Roccas, the Sleepy Planet solution was scheduling Harlow so she wouldn't get overtired or under-tired. This meant putting her down to sleep every 2 1/2 hours, just when she started to get drowsy. When Harlow cried, her parents didn't pick her up; they simply stood by her crib for 30 seconds to reassure her and then walked out. They also slowly weaned her off nighttime feedings and added daytime feedings.
Most important, according to Harlow's sleep coach, was making sure the parents were emotionally ready to teach the baby sleep skills.
``If a parent is not tired of sleep deprivation or hasn't hit a wall and isn't committed to change, we tell them to come back,'' said Spivack.
Although pediatricians can usually help parents navigate sleep issues, in cases that require time and extra counseling, a sleep specialist can be beneficial, said Encino pediatrician JJ Levenstein.
``The sleep expert has the time to give the family the day-to-day, moment-to-moment support often needed to achieve successful sleep. In addition, if there are relationship issues, parental anxiety or stress impacting a parent's ability to successfully implement a sleep plan, a sleep expert, usually very psychologically minded, can be instrumental,'' Levenstein said.
Sometimes, the prescription is simple. For Santa Clarita resident Lisa Whitecrow and her sleep-resistant 23-month-old son, Logan, the solution turned out to be putting him down awake and telling him to stay in bed until the sun came up. ``I gave him lots of encouragement, and when it was morning, I was very animated and positive. I opened the curtains and told him to look at the sun!'' It worked.
Clinical psychologist and pediatric sleep coach Whitney Roban of Studio City-based Sleep-Eez, says the lack of a full night's rest can play a role in more serious health problems, like obesity, and can also interfere with emotional and cognitive development.
Troubled sleepers can also make life difficult for the rest of the family.
``Mothers tend to be more depressed and less ready to face the world when they don't get a good night's sleep,'' says Roban.
The problem can be especially hard on young, growing families like the Murphys of Hermosa Beach. With Mom expecting a second child, Dad traveling for work, a new toddler bed and a home remodel, 2 1/2-year-old Kate began suffering from sleep anxiety.
Sleepy Planet advised Kate's parents, Jim and Jeanne, to make a book by stapling together pages of crayon drawings of their daughter playing, getting tired, going to sleep and waking up to a new day.
Bearing up well
``The idea is to get the child to visualize the process, to understand that it's normal, healthy and OK to fall asleep,'' says Waldburger. Kate's father, also slept on the floor in her room for three nights to provide a calming, reassuring presence. He then presented Kate with a teddy bear named ``Daddy Bear,'' a transitional object to help the little girl get through the night.
Most kids solve the sleep riddle by age 4. But many enter a new phase of problems: fear of monsters and the dark.
Spivack advises leaving the door open or putting on a nightlight.
A good, rational explanation that monsters are part of our imagination can also help. ``A parent can even sleep in a child's room for a few nights,'' says Spivack. ``The key is to get rid of a child's anxiety.''
Sleep experts agree, healthy sleeping habits begin with parents.
According to Roban, sleep problems are behavioral. ``It's up to the parents to fix the problem; children are not going to learn to sleep on their own.''
Do's, don'ts of sleep training
Here are some sleep training tips from Whitney Roban, a clinical psychologist and sleep coach.
Schedule naps and bed time for infants at 6 weeks.
Be consistent with sleep times.
Establish a bedtime routine and keep it to 15 minutes.
Put your child to bed while he or she is awake.
Put a digital clock in the room and teach your child to recognize the numbers for bedtime.
Let your child sleep to develop longer sleep times.
Reward good sleep habits.
Rocking a child to sleep in your arms, stroller or car; he needs to learn motionless sleep.
Picking up a child every time he cries in bed; check at five-, 10 and 15-minute intervals.
Nursing or giving a bottle to encourage sleep.
Using television to put kids to sleep; it may contribute to sleep problems.
Keeping kids up, thinking they'll sleep longer.
Letting kids drag out the bedtime routine.
Moving a restless toddler out of a crib before age 3 (unless they are climbing out).
2 photos, box
(1 -- cover -- color) GOT SLEEP?
Coaches offer tips for exhausted parents and tots
(2) Jennifer Waldburger, left, and Jill Spivak --licensed clinical social workers and co-founders of Sleepy Planet -- work with Amy Howe and 4-month-old Grant to help solve his sleep problem. ``You can start to sleep train a child at 4 months or 14 pounds,'' says Spivack, who checks the progress of her clients daily.
David Sprague/Staff Photographer
Do's, don'ts of sleep training (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 2, 2006|
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