Today's interview features Rebecca Nazzal, M.S., PPS, Owner and Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant of Dream Big Sleep Consulting.
So, how did she get involved with being a Sleep Consultant? Rebecca had a young baby who was not sleeping well and needed to find a solution. Also, she was no longer pleased with her career path at the time and was looking for a change. Both of these unrelated factors combined with the opportunity to work directly with families to make some healthy and productive changes, led her down a path that she never had previously envisioned for herself.
Rebecca admitted that starting her own business is an incredibly frightening venture, especially when she had never considered herself as an entrepreneur. However, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences as well; personal pride/satisfaction pairs very well with the passion of helping others succeed.
Rebecca works with parents and families who are struggling with getting their little ones to sleep. She helps by educating them about how sleep skills and behaviors develop, creating a customized sleep plan to address their specific needs, and providing personal support while everyone works to achieve longer, more consistent, and more restful sleep.
In addition to the training and experience she has as a sleep consultant, she also has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in psychology. She has worked in multiple environments helping children succeed. Additionally, she works hard to come up with a sleep plan that takes into consideration the needs of the entire family; consistency is key with any sleep plan and she finds that parents and families are most able to be consistent when they are comfortable with the plan for sleep and feel like their needs are met.
On the subject of achievements, she feels the most proud when she sees testimonials that parents have written after working with her or when she is able to hear how she has helped them make a much needed and drastic difference in their day-to-day lives. She is ecstatic to be able to make a difference in people’s lives while working at something she is passionate about – helping babies and young children and their families.
As a professional and at the same time a mother she is very aware of not being judgmental of others’ parenting decisions. When she meets another parent and they find out what she does as a profession, she often gets some “defensive” answers of why they have made the decisions they have regarding their child’s sleep. But she always has a very understanding mentality for any family who may or may not be struggling with sleep –
If, whatever method used at home (may it be co sleeping, breastfeeding, setting schedule/routine or not) works for your family then that is great! However, if you find that it is not working for you and you need help changing things, that is when Rebecca would love to work with you to help! She doesn't think that parents are making “mistakes” when it comes to their children’s sleep; "we are all just doing the best we know how." emphasized Rebecca.
But, in general, she finds that many families she works with have babies/toddlers/children that do not have the skills or confidence to fall asleep (or go back to sleep) on their own. "Little ones can easily develop dependency on external sleep props and will find it hard to sleep without those props present. The best things parents can do is to try and avoid the development of dependence on sleep props and/or identify which props their baby has and work to replace them with independent sleep skills".
This year, Rebecca's goal is to build a variety of consultation and support options into her business. This way she can provide families with exactly what they need to aide them on their journey to much needed and restful sleep.
Rebecca shares her best tips for dealing with kids' sleeping issues:
- Babies and children need to learn the skill of falling asleep independently. It is not something that comes naturally to all babies (although some do seem to be “good sleepers” from the start). When they depend on external props to fall asleep initially at night or nap, they are much more likely to need that same prop whenever they wake in the night in order to go back to sleep. Some sleep props that are very common with babies and children are nursing/breastfeeding, bottle feeding, pacifier, being bounced/rocked to sleep, swing/vibrating seat, car and stroller rides. If your baby is young enough to require feedings during the middle of the night, it is important to try and keep her awake through the entire feeding, so she can go to sleep on her own in her crib.
- Have consistent expectations for your child and their sleep. Having your baby sleep in the same environment, under the same conditions, with the same sleep expectations as much as possible will help him develop a consistent sleep strategy. Changing expectations from nap to nap and from bedtime to bedtime – changing from stroller to crib, from rocking to nursing to laying down awake – sends a confusing message to your child and impedes the development of independent sleep skills.
- It is important that you have an appropriate schedule for your baby; this includes a bedtime that is not too late as well as wake times between sleep that are not long. Learning about the most common wake times for the age of your own baby is the best starting point to make sure that your little one is having enough opportunity to get sleep throughout the day.
- Sleep routines (for bedtimes and naptimes) are a great way to help your child prepare for sleep. By using the same routine for each sleep situation, your baby’s mind and body are cued that sleep is coming soon. Keep routines short enough – about 30 minutes for bedtime and no more than 10 minutes for nap – so your baby does not get “bored” or over-stimulated. Some great components for a bedtime routine are bath, lotion/diaper/pajamas, bottle or breastfeed, and story/song/cuddle … then into bed!
- Overtiredness is often a baby’s worst enemy when it comes to sleep. The mistaken advice of delaying naps or bedtime in order to help your baby sleep longer at night just results in a baby who finds it even harder to settle for sleep. And often, a baby who is showing sleepy cues (like yawning, eye rubbing, etc.) is already entering the overtired state; this is also why it is important to know how much awake time your baby can handle.
Many of these tips are just as important for an adult as they are for a baby/child. Expecting mommies especially need their sleep, and a few pre-planned steps may be able to help ensure they get it. Have an appropriate schedule; try and plan your night to include enough hours for sleep (based on what time you need to wake in the morning). Go through a soothing nighttime routine every evening to help cue your mind and body ready for bed. One important area to pay attention to is limiting screen time an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by electronic devices interferes with the production of sleep hormones in our bodies. I always suggest that adults put as much effort into their own sleep hygiene as they are willing to put into their kids’ sleep hygiene."
Rebecca often has parents ask her about her methods, telling her that they don’t want to use “Cry It Out” - this refers to an “extinction” method, which asks parents to put the child to bed and leave them until morning, so the child will “figure out” how to self soothe. Although this can be effective for some children, most parents are not comfortable with this method AND it is not what she recommends in her sleep plans. Although she cannot promise that a baby won’t protest during the process, she does not ask parents to leave their baby to cry endlessly alone, and will always work with parents to develop a plan that is as gentle as possible while still being effective and successful.
On a final note, most of the parents out there would want to know what Rebecca's success rate is for the children that she worked with. The honest answer is a whooping 100% - what that means is that every family she has worked with, who have followed the sleep plan for their baby, has seen significant improvement with their child’s sleep skills; this usually happens within 2-3 weeks and, for the rare instances it has taken longer, she continues to work with the family until their child’s sleep is well on track.