Interviewed by Jo Reynolds

When did you move here?

Sarah: in 1995 with 3 children. My fourth was born in the same house we live in now.

Lou: In 2001 before having my two boys, now 13 and 16. 

Where did you grow up? 

Sarah: Rural Hertfordshire. 

Lou: Hong Kong and Bath. 

We've heard some hair-raising so-called advice on sleep

Who are the SleepGeeks and what do you do?

We are gentle sleep consultants for babies and children. We help parents move a child towards a healthier pattern that's age-appropriate, rather than advocating stressful strategies such as crying it out. We look for solutions grounded in research, and support breastfeeding where that's a priority. 

Are you qualified?

Sarah: We have decades of experience with new families between us. I’m a qualified postnatal and birth doula (coach) and I’ve trained with (child psychologist) Sarah Ockwell-Smith. We've both trained with the (NHS-approved) Millpond Sleep Clinic and we've trained extensively with Lyndsey Hookway who originated the idea of a Gentle Sleep Coach in the UK. Lou and I met years ago in our early days training as National Childbirth Trust antenatal teachers. 

Lou: I'm also an NCT-trained birth doula.

Sarah: And she's a brilliant baby massage teacher. She made a video about it for This Morning.

One-on-one or group sessions?

Sarah: For individual families, we visit for up to a couple of hours to talk things through. We need to meet the little one and get an idea of their personality. Then we work out an action plan and keep in touch with the family for six weeks. We also offer a talk for nursery and pre-school parents called The Science of Bedtime. 

With toddlers, what's your advice on bedtime battles?

Lou: We have loads of ideas and strategies, but firstly make sure the bedroom is a fun place to be. Keep bedtime short before they get too roused up. Ask daddy to save the boisterous games for the morning.

Sarah: An overtired child’s brain starts secreting cortisol as an emergency response. Adults can be aware of this in themselves, and take action to calm down but a little one doesn’t have those strategies yet. 

And waking at night?

Lou: There’s a difference between waking before midnight and after. We look at those differently. We need to know why they are waking – hunger, comfort or overtired?

Sarah: I always ask, how safe does this child feel when they wake up? If the room is associated with being abandoned, it's not going to go well.

On waking early?

Sarah: Most babies and toddlers are naturally larks and will stay that way until adolescence but you can certainly tweak the factors that affect their body clock such as eating times, social cues… And we have some clever tricks with clocks.

On napping?

Lou: Naps are often the key to unlocking long sleep stretches at night. The right amount of sleep at appropriate intervals is the goal, and going by when the child shows they are sleepy before they are overtired.

Sarah: But they’re so difficult to get right! Watch for early tired cues and have a regular ritual.

For babies, what's your advice on safe sleeping?

Lou: It's the bedrock of confident parenting and we recommend you check advice from the Lullaby Trust and BASIS. They have thorough, easy-to-read information on all aspects of safe sleeping.

Does any of this apply to parents?

Sarah: As a new parent, you need the pre-midnight deep sleep phase to be as uninterrupted as possible. So put the phone away, read a book and put the light out at 9pm at least three times a week and you’ll stay more or less sane. 

Should we all sleep on our backs?

Lou: No but all babies under 6 months should be put down on their backs to sleep.  

Do you recommend a bedtime routine? No coffee or screens? Open window?

Sarah: All of those. Also go to bed early, but actually go to your bedroom and get into bed only ten minutes before you aim to turn the light out.  Lou: Keep a notebook beside your bed to jot down worrying thoughts. 

Do you sleep well?

Sarah: Ever since I trained as a hypnotherapist in the early 2000s, I’ve been able to fall asleep incredibly easily.

Lou: But let's be honest, as parents of teenagers and young adults, we both sometimes lie awake at night worrying.

Do today's children sleep worse than when you were a kid?

Sarah: We’ve seen a lot of research showing that kids get far less exercise and they are exposed to screens constantly. And society seems to frown on children sharing rooms, which means they are expected to be isolated and alone at night all the time. That’s not natural!

What inspired you to set up SleepGeeks?

Sarah: As NCT teachers we found all our antenatal clients were really worried about sleep and we also heard some hair-raising stories about the so-called “advice” people were getting. 

What do people always ask you about your job? And what's the answer?

Lou: Do you believe in leaving a baby to cry it out?

Sarah: And the answer is: No.

What did you do before?

Sarah: I was a journalist, I wrote three parenting books in the 90s and was children’s books editor for The Times for years. J. K. Rowling was so pleased with my review of the first Harry Potter book that she came to lunch here in Shepherd's Bush and told me what was going to be the secret of the final book – but I think she changed her mind.

Lou: I worked in TV on the National Geographic Channel. 

If you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?

Sarah: Bear sanctuary assistant.

Lou: Renovating old houses in Portugal where I've just been on holiday.

How do you relax?

Sarah: Walking through our lovely parks with my cockapoo, Merlin. We’re so lucky to have so much green space.

Lou: Yoga, and cuddling my sons, when they let me. Mums get a massive oxytocin boost when they hug their children. 

Thank you, Sarah and Lou. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.

Interviewed Aug 2019

Photo :Rayhan Demytrie

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