Parents frustrated with encouraging healthy sleeping habits for their children should not consider their efforts a lost cause, says an Okanagan sleep consultant.
Pam Nease said despite the sleep frustrations, there is a pathway she advocates for neurotypical and neurodiverse children, which can close a gateway that left unchecked often leads to other health and behavioural issues.
“Not all health problems are solved by the power of sleep, but it can prevent a lot of things and just make life easier for parent and child,” Nease said.
She understands how parents feel because she was a stressed-out parent dealing with her son’s sleeping issues.
For the past 12 years, Nease has immersed herself in the subject and has attended international sleep conferences including the Biennial Pediatric Sleep Medicine Conference in 2017 and 2019.
During that time, Nease’s consultant services have broadened to include supporting children with neurodevelopmental challenges, such as autism spectrum disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
She deals with clients on a global level, reaching out to more than 2,700 families seeking her help.
Nease says there is no magic bullet for a sleep disorder, and she says reliance on melatonin or sleeping pills is not an ideal long-term solution.
Working with each family to find solutions to fit their lifestyle demands, Nease bases philosophies around daily rituals that children can respond to and creating the idea of having to go to sleep as a positive rather than negative experience.
She uses the analogy of sleep compared to driving a car – when learning how to drive we feel unsure and uncertain, but over time and repetition you just get in the vehicle and drive without thinking about it.
“You want to develop a consistent ritual every night so when kids put their head on the pillow, they go on autopilot and drift off to sleep without even thinking about it,” she said.
She said finding that right ritual formula is transformational for a child, beyond just regulating device screen time for children.
Using the example from a client, Nease explains a mom who had become beaten down with negative behaviour complaints about her daughter, who suffered from sleep deprivation.
When she was called to meet with her daughter’s elementary grade teacher, she expected to hear more of the same.
But working with Nease had helped alleviate the girl’s sleeping issues. So while the mom braced herself for what she thought was to come, she was caught off-guard to hear the teacher asked if she was doing something different at home because her child’s behavioural issues had dissipated, she was able to focus better in class and was playing cooperatively with other kids at recess.
“My client literally collapsed to the floor in her emotional reaction to hearing that after her past experience of always getting negative feedback…” she said.
Nease says suffering from lack of sleep because an infant, toddler or young child does not have consistent sleeping habits should not be an expectation for any parent, but an unhealthy situation that can be changed to more positive outcomes.
She acknowledges the Internet is home to a myriad of ‘expert opinions’ about how to make your child sleep better, something she as a consultant wades through to find the best options for her clients to consider.
“We go to prenatal classes and learn a lot about breastfeeding and how to give birth, but something we never talk about is how to get a baby to sleep. You wonder why sometimes that is not everyone’s radar,” she said.
She said sleep remains a complex topic with no single solution that fits every case, but sleep awareness research continues to be developed and the critical need for sleep becomes better understood in the health of our children.
“The prevalent myth is once you have a child, you will never sleep regularly again as a parent. Unfortunately, that may be a common scenario, but it is not normal. There are ways to deal with that,” she said.
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