What to Expect When Hiring a Sleep Consultant

Are you thinking about hiring a sleep consultant but are not sure how they work to help you with your child’s sleep problems?  I cannot speak for all sleep consultants, but I have trained with two different organizations and know how a large number of the consultants work from those organizations. I will give you some general information and some information from my own practice.

Appointment Set Up

Normally, we first set up a time to have an in person consultation at your home.  If you are using my services and are not in the local Washington DC Metro area, we will set up a time to do a phone call or a Skype Consultation.

Background Information

Many consultants, including myself, will have you fill out a form before meeting.  This form is helpful so that we can create a plan before our meeting. I look at your child’s schedule, background information and your parenting philosophies to create a rough draft of the plan. This form can also give me information about possible medical conditions that I may have you go back to your pediatrician with. We do want to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions before we start sleep training.


At the consultation, the parents and consultant together finalize the plan. I do not just give the parents a plan and make them follow it. I find a plan is more likely to be followed through with if the parents have a say in creating it. The parents after all do know their child best and know what will work for their family best.

Follow Ups

After the consultation, many sleep consultants offer follow up phone calls or Skype calls. These calls help the parents while they are doing the training. It helps if the parents have a really bad night and know they just have to get through to the next day and then they can call their consultant and tell them they need a new plan or more support.

How do you choose?

In choosing a sleep consultant, parents should find one that they trust and get along with. Many consultants offer a free introductory phone call so that parents can get a sense of their background and philosophies. I believe that there is no one plan that works for all children and so I encourage people to look for sleep consultants who have a variety of training.

More Information

To get more information on the training programs I’ve completed, check out The International Maternity Institute’s Maternity and Child Sleep Consultant and Kim West’s Gentle Sleep Coach.  You can also look at the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants for more information.

Feel free to contact me or comment below with any questions or comments you have!


By Michelle Winters

Is Sleep Training Just Crying It Out?

388598_franqui_sleeping___The answer to this question, in my opinion, is No.  There are different levels of crying  however, and it is true that any sleep training could cause your baby to cry.

Babies cry to communicate and they can cry for many different reasons, such as being hurt, scared, hungry, or expressing displeasure in a change.  If your baby is used to falling asleep being curled up in your arms and then you work to get them to fall asleep in a crib, they will probably cry to communicate their displeasure to you.

The difference is how you handle the crying.  Do you just leave them in their room to let them work it out themselves?  This is typically what people envision when they think of sleep training and it is the “Cry It Out” method of training.  It can work, and some parents choose to do this.  Most parents who come to me want a gentler approach, or have tried cry it out and found that their child can cry for hours and that they cannot handle listening to all that crying.

I normally recommend a gentler approach where the parents stays in the room with the child.  That way if the child bumps their head or gets a leg stuck or has a dirty diaper, the parent knows and can assist them.  The parent can also talk to the child to let them know it is bedtime and they need to go to sleep.  And if the child gets really upset, the parent can always pick the child up and calm them before putting them back into the crib.

Before I recommend any method however, I always find out how the parents feel about training and I look at schedules and other variables in the child’s life.  I do not believe there is any one size fit all sleep training method, and that’s where hiring a sleep consultant really helps!

By Michelle Winters

“Do you only help children with sleep?”

I get this question so often!  While I am only certified to help children up to and including the age of 6, I do have tips for adults and older children who are not sleeping well.

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine – This is also one of the first steps I give to parents of younger children, but this is also helpful in older children and adults as well.   Do some calm activities so your body knows sleep is coming soon.
  • Dim the lights about an hour before you are to go to sleep.  Dimming lights helps your body begin to produce Melatonin, a calming hormone.
  • Try not to use electronics such as computers, smartphones and tablets before bed.  The light from these electronics can actually stop your body from producing Melatonin.  (Sleep Coach confession time – this is one thing I have not been able to stop doing, but it is a goal of mine!)
  • Use white noise.  If you have trouble falling asleep because of thoughts in your head, give white noise a try.  White noise gives your brain something to focus on, instaead of all those worrying thoughts and to do lists!
  • Keep paper and a pen next to your bed.  If you tend to remember things you need to do in the future while you are trying to fall asleep, writing them down can release them from your thoughts.
  • Don’t watch the clock.  If you are having trouble falling asleep (or back asleep in the middle of the night), watching the clock will only add to your stress and probably keep you awake even longer.  Try not to think about how many hours you have been asleep or how much longer you could sleep until you have to wake up.


  • Get some natural sunlight.  Naturaly sunlight is good during the day to keep your body on a consistent schedule.
  • Do not vary your schedule by more than an hour.  For good sleep hygiene, it is better to not vary your wake / sleep schedule by more than an hour from day to day.  Keep your meal times pretty consistent as well.
  • Exercise.  A recent study by the National Sleep Foundation states that exercise at any time of the day results in better sleep.  http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/national-sleep-foundation-poll-finds-exercise-key-good-sleep
  • Eat sleep inducing foods.  Food rich in tryptofan, carbohydrates and magnesium can help you sleep better.  There have also been studies done that tart cherry juice before bed can help you fall asleep.  See the following article for more information:  http://www.livestrong.com/article/138374-foods-that-help-you-sleep-well/
  • Get up and do something.  If you wake in the middle of the night and can not get back to sleep, get up and do something and then try again.

Do you have other tips that can help you get sleep?  Feel free to comment below!

By Michelle Winters

Children’s Exposure to Toxins in Day Cares

You try to use non-toxic cleaning supplies, give your children (mostly) healthy food, and only use soaps and other personal care products with natural ingredients.  That is, you do this in your home . . . but what happens when your child goes out?  Now, I wouldn’t worry about the time your child needs to use the restroom at a restaurant and uses soap with (gasp!) antibacterial products in it, but what about somewhere your child goes EVERY day?  Do you think about what products your child’s day care or school uses?  This is especially important in very young children who are crawling around on the floor and putting things in their mouths.

Cleaning Products

Cleaning products can affect the indoor air quality of the day care your child goes to.  If possible, the day care will  use non toxic cleaners.  Check out this website to research what products your day care is using:  http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners.  Remember there are no laws regarding companies putting “natural” or “green” on labels so make sure you do your homework to determine if a product is really non toxic.  If your day care insists on using toxic cleaning products, ask them to at least use them when the children are not in the area.

Air fresheners

Air fresheners only mask existing odors and do nothing to remove them.   According the Environmental Working Group (EWG): “They also contaminate the air, exposing people to a host of undisclosed, untested and potentially toxic substances, including phthalates, synthetic musks and allergens.”  Make sure your day care is not using air freshners, especially around children.  The EWG suggests identifying and removing or cleaning up the odor source, as well as opening windows and putting out an open container of baking soda.


If your children take naps at school, find out what kind of mats or cribs the school uses.  Dangerous chemicals have been found in nap mats, so ask what the day care is using:  http://ceh.org/making-news/press-releases/29-eliminating-toxics/630-naptime-nightmares-toxic-flame-retardants-found-in-day-care-nap-mats

If the school washes the sheets and blankets, find out what laundry detergent the school is using.  If the detergent has fragrance in it, see if you can wash your own blankets and sheets.


You should take a look at what toys the day care has for your child to play with.  Toys manufactured before 2009 could contain dangerous phthalates, which have been shown to cause many health problems.  If a toy has a very plasticy smell, do you really want your child putting that in their mouth?  Look for a day care with a lot of wooden toys and not too many plastic toys.


Bring your own diapers and fragrance free wipes.  Do not be afraid to ask your day care center if they will use your cloth diapers if you are using them at home.  Many centers do not realize how easy cloth diapers are these days.  You can show the providers how to use them and you can bring your own wet bags where they can place the diapers.

Talk to the School

If you find that your school is using hazerdous chemicals, do your research and have information to bring to them and show them.  Explain to them why you are concerned and how important this is to you.  Have options that they can use instead and if you can, offer to buy them a product so they can try it and see that it works the same as something they already had.

Here is a helpful link to the Center for Health, Environment, & Justice (CHEJ) about helping to create healthy schools:  http://chej.org/campaigns/pvc/projects/pvc-free-schools/

I will probably be adding to this in the future as there is just so much information out there!!

By Michelle Winters

Guest Post About Night Terrors

I have a special treat for you today – Michelle Gordon, a writer for www.latexmattress.org has generously offered us an article she has written about Night Terrors.  I hope you enjoy!

Night Terrors

You hear your child wake, screaming and crying in her bedroom. She sounds so overwrought that you come running, but she doesn’t seem to hear you when you speak to her. Her eyes are open, she’s sweating, her heart is pounding, and she looks absolutely terrified – but she breaks away when you try to calm her and doesn’t even seem to recognize you.

Suddenly it’s over. Without any real help from you, she calms and snuggles down into bed by herself, suddenly asleep again. As you stumble back to bed, your mind races. What just happened?

Night Terrors

These episodes are called night terrors or sleep terrors. Both kids and adults can have night terrors, but they’re more common in children. Kids may sleepwalk, scream, cry, or even talk during a sleep terror, but they won’t respond to their parents or loved ones the way they would in the waking world.

Night Terrors and Dreaming

Night terrors aren’t true dreams. According to sleep researchers Carlos Simon Guzman and Yuan Pang Wang of the Institute of Psychiatry at Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, “arousal parasomnias” like night terrors and sleep walking most commonly occur during periods of partial arousal from delta sleep, or Stage 4 sleep.

Children spend more time in delta wave sleep than grownups, and night terrors most often happen early in the night, when periods of delta sleep are longest. Night terrors can also sometimes happen in very young children, whose neurological systems aren’t fully matured, as they transition from deep REM sleep (where they dream) to light REM sleep (where there are no visual dreams).

Delta sleep is a deep sleep stage, but it’s not deep REM sleep, where dreams occur. In deep REM sleep, the brain literally disconnects muscle control so that we don’t act out our dreams. A person in delta sleep doesn’t “see” or experience events as they would in dreams – in fact, both kids and adults who have night terrors will wake up in the morning with no memory of the episode at all. In other words, you’re probably more traumatized by the whole thing than your little one.

Reasons for Night Terrors

The most common explanation for night terrors is that the central nervous system, or CNS, is somehow overstimulated during sleep, according to KidsHealth. Stimulation, either left over from a dream, in response to the pressure of a full bladder, or due to partial awakening for some other reason, can cause a rush of adrenaline in the hyper-stimulated CNS and trigger an inappropriate “fight or flight” response. So the flailing little one in front of you is exhibiting the chemical effects of fear – but she’s not responding to any kind of mental imagery from a dream, and she’s still too deeply asleep to know that you’re there and trying to wake her.

Research published in 2003 in the journal Pediatrics by Gulleminault et al. found that more than half of kids who suffer from parasomnias like night terrors have another sleep-related disorder like restless legs syndrome or, most commonly, sleep disordered breathing (or SBD). Treating the other sleep disorder resulted in alleviation of night terrors in most cases, so the partial arousals caused by another sleep disorder are one cause of night terrors.

Who has Night Terrors?

Night terrors happen to both boys and girls, usually between the ages of four and twelve years. Occasionally, younger children are reported to have these issues. Reports may be lower in toddlers and babies since nighttime awakenings on the whole are more common in the youngest children.

Most children grow out of night terrors on their own as the nervous system matures. Some adults do suffer from night terrors, and in these cases the problem might stem from childhood or present for the first time after a traumatic event later in life. Night terrors in adults are associated with a higher instance of psychological disorder, so see a specialist if you’re experiencing night terrors as an adult for any significant length of time.

Night terrors in young children, “tweens,” and even young teens are usually no cause for alarm. They are most often a side effect of a normally developing CNS, rather than an indicator of psychological problems. Still, if your child has these partial awakenings nightly or if the episodes are severe enough that he could be injured, visit a pediatric therapist or a sleep specialist. The underlying cause may be as simple as a related, and easily fixed, sleep problem.

Helping a Child Through Sleep Terrors

A parent’s first instinct is to hug or rock a child in the throes of a night terror, but this response can actually make things worse. Remember, your child is still in a deep state of sleep and doesn’t consciously hear you or recognize you – so a hug can feel like a restraint, further arousing them from sleep and exacerbating the chemical fear response your child is feeling. A child who is woken from a sleep terror may have trouble calming down due to the “fight-or-flight” feeling produced by adrenaline; it’s far easier on both adult and child if the child passes through this bumpy transition without waking fully.

Don’t try to wake a child who is in the middle of a night terror. Watch to minimize the chances of injury, let the child settle down on his own, and tuck him in as he drifts off to deeper sleep again. In some cases, if the episode doesn’t resolve itself in a minute or two, walking your child to the bathroom to relieve himself may make the difference.

Remember, if it’s a night terror and not a bad dream, your little one will have no memory of the event in the morning. Since little brains and bodies don’t remember night terrors, there’s no danger of lasting damage to a child’s psychology or emotional development. Parasomnias really can be harder on the parent than the child.

Need to Know:

  • Night terrors in children aren’t a sign of psychological or behavioral problems.
  • Night terrors happen when a child transitions between deep sleep stages or is partially aroused from sleep. It’s a natural, if unfortunate, part of the maturing central nervous system for a small percentage of children.
  • Night terrors can sometimes be caused by a related sleep disorder, so if the problem is severe or long lasting, talk to a sleep specialist.

Nice To Know

  • Your child isn’t having a bad dream – in fact, he or she probably won’t remember the event at all when the sun comes up.
  • Night terrors usually resolve on their own over time. Even adults who experience night terrors after a traumatic incident usually find the episodes stop after they’ve had time to think about and process the event.

Michelle Gordon has been a lifelong student of sleep and sleep disorders. She enjoys speaking to others (in groups and individually) about how to enhance the sleep experience. She writes for Latexmattress.org, the definitive guide for latex mattresses.