Nicole Ratcliffe’s Sleep Coaching Magic
Every parent will have encountered bedtime battles with their little one at some point and for me, it was no different. Faced with the nightly challenge of getting my 3-year-old son, Harvey, to unwind and sleep, I turned to my knowledge of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and my belief in the power of words to induce deep relaxation.
The result was Tickled Moon’s latest book “The Sleepytown Express”– a ‘superpowered’ sleep story and song, that contains many gentle, but powerful, language suggestions. It will help to calm and soothe young children at bedtime and it could be the secret ingredient to a peaceful night’s sleep for everyone.
However, children’s sleep issues can go a lot deeper, and sleep deprivation for parents can be a very serious issue, causing a massive toll on mental health and family and work life.
So in this article, meet renowned Sleep Coach Nicole Ratcliffe, a mother of two and the driving force behind Baby2Sleep. Learn how her journey into sleep coaching began and how she now helps empower parents by educating them to their baby’s needs and cues. Discover her Top 3 Tips for helping children of all ages sleep, and how to help them settle when babysitting.
I started by asking Nicole…
How did she become a sleep coach for children?
“My eldest child thought sleep was something only other babies did, and nothing prepared us for the months and years of sleep deprivation that followed. My marriage was falling apart, my mental and physical health was deteriorating and all the ‘advice’ I was getting wasn’t helping.
I felt like I was failing at being a mum. We eventually sought private help from a sleep consultant, and the way things turned around gave me a passion for understanding sleep. I began to study sleep, and have been practising as a holistic sleep coach since 2017. “
So what are the biggest issues that stop children from sleeping?
“Lack of evidence-based education for the parents. The health visitors get minimal training on sleep and the NHS doesn’t have the funds to make sleep an important part of the education for new parents.”
When a parent is able to understand their baby and their unique sleep cues, it makes it easier to help them sleep well.
Most issues I see as a sleep coach are when a baby has been kept awake for too long. By the time it is time for sleep they fight it because they are unable to transition from being awake to asleep easily.”
And how can a sleep coach help?
“We can look into your world and tweak what needs to be tweaked to suit the whole family. There is no one size fits all. We learn about you, your child and your family and we give you what you all need to improve sleep for everyone.”
As well as offering 1-1 support, Nicole offers a range of online courses for babies and children of all ages. So I asked her:-
How much does sleep coaching vary for all ages?
“Every stage is unique –
- For babies under 6 months, you wouldn’t consider sleep training. The best thing to do is to understand normal baby sleep and learn about all the things that could be hindering sleep prior to baby’s arrival. A baby isn’t a bad sleeper just because they are bad at it, there is usually an underlying cause. This could be reflux, tongue tie, tension and lack of guidance from the parent to support them to sleep well.
- With babies between 6 and 20 months, it is about understanding each baby’s sleep needs at various ages. Between these months a baby’s sleep changes from 3 naps a day with around 3.5 hours of day sleep down to 1 nap a day of around 2-2.5 hours. So meeting the child’s needs and transitioning them at the time that is right for them is crucial in supporting quality sleep.
- From around 20 months upwards, it becomes a totally different ball game and less about sleep and more about behaviours, boundaries, emotion coaching, communication and connection.
Once a parent understands why a child may be acting a certain way and learns how to connect and communicate with their child, taking on less of the blame themselves for the tantrums and realising it is a normal part of toddlerhood, things can feel a lot easier.
We start to teach our little ones how to begin to regulate their emotions and teach them strategies to calm down with us. We involve them in the processes, we give them choices and independence. We still need to understand their sleep needs and work with these as well, but it is a much more rounded, holistic support approach that is needed at this age.”
What are your 3 top tips for helping children (of all ages) settle and sleep?
- “Make sure your bedtime routine is conducive for sleep. Lower lighting / reduce natural light, around 1 hour before bedtime (lights out) to help the production of the hormone melatonin.
- Know what your child’s wake windows look like – rather than following google, follow your child.
- Knowing that responding to your child’s needs is important as this helps to secure attachment – you can always lessen support needed when they can do more themselves. Tip the weighing scales from being heavily loaded by you to them.”
All of this is incredibly helpful for the parents. But what if they’re not your children, but your grandchildren or nieces or nephews? It can be very daunting looking after someone else’s small children, especially if they’re very active at bedtimes.
What would you recommend to help grandparents or other family members, when they are babysitting or have excited grandchildren over to stay?
“If you are babysitting, please try to follow what the child’s parents have asked for in terms of naps as they know their child. Any small thing you can do to acknowledge that the parent and child’s feelings are valid, and that they are being listened to, will really help them both.
If you are having them to stay over, please try to get them to bed at their usual time. I know you will want to have movie nights and stay up late, but in most cases, a later bedtime is going to give you an earlier wake up! This means you are sending an overtired child back home to their parents, and this might put them off asking for help again.”
As I mentioned earlier, we have recently launched our own sleep aid in the form of our book “The Sleepytown Express”. So I was interested to hear what Nicole thought about the concept behind it.
How important is positive language (and music?) when dealing with child sleep issues?
“Subliminal messages through positive language are incredibly helpful. No child wants to be ‘told’ they are to go to sleep, but by making the environment conducive for sleep, sending the right messages through words, connection, play and music, we can prepare our children to go to sleep happy.”
Good to hear! (You can learn more about “The Sleepytown Express” here)
Back to Nicole and her journey….
What are you most proud of in your career as a sleep coach? And are there any fun moments that you’d like to share?!
“Being invited to be an Expert Speaker at The Baby Show was a highlight. This was always on my bucket list as they only get well known and very respected people to speak, so to be invited to speak was an incredible feeling, and I got to do it twice.
A fun moment for me was getting to enjoy my first night out in 8 and a half years as a finalist in the Enterprising Vision Awards in the Digital Industry Category. Since having my girls, my evenings were taken away, and only being able to run my business during the times they were sleeping, meant my fun side has been stifled. To be able to get out on such an amazing occasion has really helped me remember that I am fun, and I am much more than just a mum.
And finally – what’s next for you as a sleep coach? What would you like to achieve?
The move into the corporate sector as a sleep coach is a huge one, but one that I am edging into nicely, and with determination to make a positive impact. Helping parents to be able to sleep well when they return to work – which in turn means their mental health and their ability to function safely in their job is better – is something I am extremely passionate about.
The report ‘Breaking the Silence: Revealing the Truth About Parents and the Workplace’ has shown that we have a lot of work to do. We need to improve the support available and educate businesses on the importance of sleep for the whole family.
I am also working on other projects to improve the journey from expectant parent to becoming a parent. I want to change the way expectant parents are educated, and bring more evidence based and practical support to the table.
This is a huge job and culture shift and it is going to take time to embed. We tend to live in a world where people say ‘I wish I had known’ far too much, and I am trying to change this to have them say ‘I am glad I knew’.
Ultimately, I want to leave the world a better place than I came into. I have experienced so much in my life where a better education – better support and understanding and more openness – would have made the world of difference.
I want my children to grow up in a world where it is normal to ask for help and not live in fear of judgement or feel like they are failing. We can only do this if all of us stand up and admit that life is tough sometimes. We all need a bit of help every now and then and to offer or gratefully receive the olive branch will help normalise this for our children.”
Find out more
To find out more about Nicole, her courses and her one to one support packages visit her website www.baby2sleep.co.uk
You can also find her on her Baby2Sleep YouTube channel where she has over 100 videos to help and support parents with sleep and much more.
Nicole’s thoughts on “The Sleepytown Express”…
“The Sleepytown Express is a beautiful book, wonderful writing, gorgeous illustrations and comes with beautiful calming music. Be warned, the song is so calm and chilled out that you may fall asleep yourself.
I would recommend this book to any parent wanting to offer a variety of settling options for sleep. It is great for connection, positive sleep messages and spending time snuggling together with a cosy book. I love the personalised elements where you can include the family to be part of the story. I love everything about this book.”
“The Sleepytown Express” is available in both personalised and non-personalised versions and comes with a FREE Audio Version. Available alongside all our other beautiful and empowering personalised books here.
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