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What is holistic sleep coaching

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

Holistic Sleep Coaching is something we are passionate about. Infants and small children are vulnerable and deserve our best. Parents are also vulnerable and deserve respect, truth and choices. When parents reach out for support with sleep, they are bombarded with choices about how to approach sleep. Do they just ride it out? Do they go for a quick fix? Or do they choose a gentle approach – and if they do this, what does ‘gentle’ really mean? At the Holistic Sleep Coaching program, our training guides professional sleep coaches towards an approach that takes every relevant area of family life into account.



The dilemma

Infants are probably sleeping no differently now than they were 100 or 1000 years ago. However, parenting has changed. We are dealing with the paradox of information overload, coupled with time-poverty.

Parents know more than ever about the importance of love, attachment, bonding and security to young children. We have heard and read about good nutrition, stress management, toxins, skin to skin, breastfeeding, one-to-one time, emotion coaching and organic food. Parents are bombarded with appliances that are supposed to make our lives easier, and yet end up confusing us further.


At the same time, parents are leading busy, expensive lives, have jobs that we love and finance childcare that we feel guilty for. Parents are trying to extract as much productivity out of their day, micromanaging even the most basic of tasks, while delegating as much as they possibly can.


Parents are frequently left feeling confused, frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed. They are less supported than ever. In years gone by, parenting was a task undertaken by a community of family and friends. In many cultures, this is still acknowledged as the normal way to raise children. It never surprises me how many adults are really required to care for a new baby. Two parents are simply not enough. If a baby requires constant care and attention, others are needed to prop up the other tasks, such as housework, cooking, shopping, and supporting. Without others to help, one or two parents quickly become burnt out and unable to cope with what is usually normal infant behaviour.


The options

Most infants usually have no sleep pathology, but because of the context in which people are trying to parent, some people find themselves at the end of their ability to cope. Some parents have researched sleep and parenting extensively, and know that they will raise their child in a particular way. Others have few expectations. Either way, sometimes sleep deprivation is something that parents cope well with, and sometimes it is intolerable. If parents are struggling to cope, the fact that their baby is behaving normally may be slightly irrelevant. After all, if you can’t cope, you can’t cope.


Often, well-meaning people will suggest strategies such as ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, ‘get an early night’, ‘forget the housework’, or ‘ask a family member to come and help’. But what if those suggestions are not feasible? What if the family have already tried those ideas and they either didn’t work, aren’t sustainable, or aren’t possible?


Parents may feel conflicted about reaching out for help with sleep. There are many choices of strategy, countless books, websites and endless people who give advice. A google search of terms like ‘sleep training’, ‘baby sleep coach’ or ‘gentle sleep’ yields millions of hits. How is a parent supposed to make an informed choice about who to trust?


The quick fix?

Some sleep experts are quick to suggest quick fixes. Controlled crying is quick, effective and harmless, they say. Anyone who challenges this is scaremongering and making parents feel guilty...


But does this miss the point? I promote holistic sleep coaching - a multi-dimensional approach that looks at the big picture. Holistic sleep coaching recognises that babies are usually completely normal, that their needs are not just physical but psychological, emotional and relational as well. Leaving them to cry does nothing for these needs. It also stresses parents out!


I love a quick fix as much as anyone else, but only if there are no losers.


What is holistic sleep coaching?

I have been working with families for almost 20 years. I'm passionate about family centred care, evidence-based healthcare, holistic wellness, nutrition, gentle parenting, breastfeeding and sleep. Holistic Sleep Coaching is the culmination of everything that I'm interested in and geeky about.


When I look at an infant or child's sleep, I consider:

  • Their age, developmental stage and what is considered normal according to evidence

  • The family context, including siblings, wider family, parental health, environment and community

  • Emotional and mental health, anxiety and stress

  • Nutrition, allergy, intolerances, feeding problems and nutritional deficit

  • Health, including the interplay between stress, immune problems, nutrition and sleep

  • Exercise, sleep hygiene, and everyday activities

  • Sleep biology, cycles and circadian rhythms

  • Overtiredness

I have found over and over again, that when the contextual factors are explored, sleep can be improved gently, quickly and without any actual 'sleep training' at all.


What difference does holistic sleep coaching make?

I love supporting families. I love meeting lots of new people and helping them feel better. But while that often involves people getting some more sleep, that's not what motivates me. What I enjoy most of all is seeing parents feel calm and confident in their parenting, because they understand their child, the needs of their child, and themselves.


The book: Holistic Sleep Coaching: gentle alternatives to sleep training for health and childcare professionals has a hefty whack of sleep biology and sleep solutions. However, most of the book delves deep into the holistic and contextual factors around sleep: including allergy, sensory needs, intellect, nutrition, feeding, health and anxiety, among others.


When I first trained as a sleep consultant, there were hundreds of books on sleep. They broadly fitted into these categories:

  • Parenting books

  • Books for sleep laboratory technicians

  • Sleep pathology books

The parenting books don't contain enough evidence. The big textbooks don't contain enough practical solutions for 'normal' problems. There were no books aimed at health and childcare professionals to support them with children's sleep. Now, there are more books than ever, plus one more!

Here’s what well known author and multiples expert Karen Kerkhoff Gromada - MSN, RN, IBCLC, FILCA has to say about the book:


“Holistic Sleep Coaching is the book parent-child health professionals have been waiting for regarding infants’, children’s and parents’ sleep! The book examines everything from normal sleep to chronic problem with sleep for either baby/child or parent. (I was excited to find a chapter looking at the special sleep challenges multiple-birth infants/children present!) A balanced discussion of current behavioral methods of sleep training and related crying is included along with related references. Bravo, Lyndsey, for this important addition to the field of parent-child health.”

Holistic Sleep Coaching is out soon (http://stores.praeclaruspress.com/holistic-sleep-coaching-gentle-alternatives-to-sleep-training-for-health-and-childcare-professionals-by-lyndsey-hookway/ ) , and the course that accompanies it launches imminently.


The course is modular, runs over 14 weeks and contains over 70 hours of teaching and learning. It is the most comprehensive course currently available, as it draws on the expertise of 16 experts, from paediatric occupational therapists to doulas, from paediatricians to play therapists, and experts in anxiety and mental health to allergy and epigenetics. We generate a close, supportive community of trainees who support each other, and continue to offer intense coaching with business, strategic and marketing support as well as clinical content. If you're interested in supporting families gently, holistically, and with scientific backing, then we'd love to hear from you!


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