Go to sleep, little babe

Stephanie Carslake: Sleep consultant

PHOTO by lisa baetz

Stephanie Carslake will lead a free baby-sleep workshop at Babies R Us, 1248 Galleria Boulevard in Roseville, at 6:30 p.m. on September 14. To learn more, visit www.sleeptightgoodnight.com.

Stephanie Carslake wants your child to take a nap. Honestly, you probably need one, too. Carslake founded her sleep-consulting business, Sleep Tight, Good Night, to help parents learn to support their babies and toddlers in getting the rest they need. “Our society really commends those who can get a lot done on not a lot of sleep,” she says, “but everyone suffers when the little ones can’t sleep. Yes, the parents are sleep-deprived, but really, it’s the children who suffer, because they have all these brain connections and development taking place.” Carslake traveled to Florida last spring to train with sleep expert Dana Obleman and become Northern California’s first certified Sleep Sense consultant. Now, she’s bringing her sandman skills to sleepless families on the West Coast. Read on, if you can keep your tired eyes open.

Your baby daughter had trouble sleeping?

It got to the point where my daughter was waking every two to three hours and had to be nursed back to sleep. I was back at work, a full-time teacher, and exhausted. My husband was exhausted. Our relationship was suffering. Our communication was almost nonexistent. The easiest tasks, like getting my daughter and myself ready to leave the house, I would be in tears. I was just so exhausted. I came home from work one day and my husband said, “I found our answer. We’re taking apart her crib and she’s going back in her room tonight.”

What did he find?

What he found was a program called The Sleep Sense Program. It’s originally from Canada. It was started by a woman named Dana Obleman in the early 2000s. We implemented the program that night and I even have it on my phone still—I keep a log of her sleep schedule. After three nights, on the fourth night she was sleeping 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Twelve hours straight.

What’s the Sleep Sense technique?

You’re working with your child as they learn good sleep habits. Children attach to what is called “sleep props.” That is something external, like nursing. It can be a pacifier, rocking, swaying. It’s basically anything a child needs outside themselves to make the journey to sleep. Our goal is to work with a baby, a toddler or a young child, to establish independent sleep skills so they don’t require mom or dad or bottle or pacifier in the middle of the night to take that last step to sleep. We work with the parents and explain how they can guide their child in learning these skills. It’s not “Close the door, let baby cry it out.” You get to be in the room with your child while they’re learning these skills. You get to touch them. You get to talk to them. You get to comfort them.

Do babies’ personalities change when they get more sleep?

Parents have said that they do. They say, “Oh, I have such a happy baby. They’re so well-behaved.” And then they go through the program and they’re like, “Wow.” It can be a whole new baby.

What age range do you work with?

We work with newborns up through young school-age, about 5. With newborns, it’s not a training. It’s “What are some strategies we can implement as newborns so there isn’t a sleep problem down the road?” They still nurse as often as they need and sleep as often as they need, because with newborns, it’s just all about what they need.

How do you work with a toddler who actively resists sleep?

There’s setting a limit like, “OK, you get one pass.” And once they use that pass, whether it’s for a kiss or a hug or to go to the bathroom or a sip of water, once you use that one pass, it’s gone. We use a lot of rewards with a 3-year-old. Rewards charts and immediate rewards the next morning if they were able to stay in their bed and not visit mommy and daddy in the middle of the night. There’s a lot of commending them for a job well done, because they like to be praised.

Are you pro-nap?

Yes. Naps are vital. There’s an author who says, “Sleep begets sleep.” So if a child gets really wonderful sleep during the day, you can pretty much guarantee they’re going to have really wonderful sleep that night. … Often parents think that if they remove the last nap of the day, baby will sleep longer. Actually the opposite is true. When babies are overtired, it’s very hard for them to fall asleep. It’s similar for adults.

When a child wakes at night, how do you get them back to sleep?

In the middle of the night, everyone, adults and children alike have what’s called a “partial arousal.” A partial arousal is at the end of a sleep cycle. We very briefly wake up. We fluff our pillow. We throw the covers over. We might accidentally kick our spouse. We do things that happen in a brief amount of time, but for adults we have the skills to go back to sleep. It’s such a small amount of time we don’t even realize it’s happening. Babies go through partial arousals, too. They make noises, they squeak and they grunt. As parents, we assume that they are awake. We rush in to offer whatever support we’re using. Three minutes is ideal. Give them three minutes and see what they’re going to do. It very well could be that they fall right back to sleep.