Many parents will be all too familiar with the woes of a child who just won’t sleep – and with Xander’s determination to not let anyone rest at night, I’m a fully-paid-up member of that particular club! So when I was offered the opportunity to interview baby sleep specialist, Lucy Shrimpton – also known as The Sleep Nanny – I jumped at the chance…
First things first, what attracted you to become a baby sleep specialist?
I became fascinated with the subject of sleep when my eldest was 21 months. He had been a brilliant sleeper at the beginning, but he came unstuck and it got worse and worse. Our second child was on the way and I thought ‘I can’t take this anymore’. I’d read every book going, but decided I needed more of a personalised solution, so I called an expert. My interest didn’t stop there so, while we got my son sorted, I learned more. About a year later and after having seen so many other parents suffering, I decided I wanted to help them so got professionally trained and certified.
You mention in your new book that sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture in some countries and I think many parents of young children will understand why…
Yes, definitely. My worst experience of it was after giving birth. There were a few complications and we were in hospital for a week. It just started from night one and I was a mess. It does crazy things to your brain and that’s why they use it as torture. You don’t feel like you’re in your right mind at all. Having felt that pain, I feel awful for any parent having to go through it when they don’t need to. Some people are living with sleep deprivation for months on end and it’s like a fog lifts when they finally come out the other side.
As we all know, no two children are the same but are there any particular tricks to get them to sleep that work for the majority?
There are a few things that do apply in most cases and also things that we overlook or misconceive. A classic one is parents thinking they need to tire their child out when, actually, that has the opposite effect and the child is overtired. The reason they seem wired and wide-awake at bedtime is because they’ve gone past feeling tired and are into a second wind because the brain has released hormones to wake the body up.
Do you think that, with the availability of computers and television at any time of day, it has become harder for children to get to sleep?
Yes, the blue light that computer screens, tablets and phones give off stimulates the brain and keeps it awake. They also say you shouldn’t have any television for two hours before bed, but that’s pretty difficult to achieve and, sometimes, putting something on is helpful. I love CBeebies because it’s geared towards bedtime. I do wish they’d put In the Night Garden on a bit earlier, but otherwise it’s a great channel. What I’m not such a fan of is when parents tell me that, in the middle of the night, they couldn’t take it anymore and put Peppa Pig on!
What has been the most unusual case you’ve helped with?
I once worked with a family where the mother – who was on her own quite a lot with looking after the children – was juggling two sets of twins and a singleton. I was helping with the youngest twins who were already challenging and then they got chicken pox, so that made things interesting!
And finally, what has been your proudest achievement?
It might sound a bit cheesy, but it’s the feeling that I’m leaving a trail of happy families behind me. I’ve had people come to me who are depressed or with their marriage on the rocks and life could have really taken a different path. But, through getting them some sleep back, it’s changed their lives for the better.
Lucy’s book, The Sleep Nanny System, is out now.