Sleep deprivation has become a way of life for many parents, and we wear our exhaustion like a badge of honour. We tell friends we can’t live without coffee getting us through, and confess we fall asleep with our kids most nights — or they end up in our bed. We’re trapped in bad habits that inhibit much-needed rest, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Tracey Ruiz is the Sleep Doula. Hire her, and you get your life back. Ruiz coaches parents through the emotional process of sleep training, whether an infant or a bigger kid. She gives parents workable strategies to get children sleeping the night through (imagine!), and acts as a support to see them through. In the 15 years that she’s been a sleep doula, she’s helped 30,000 families. We talked to Ruiz about that work.
How did you become the Sleep Doula?
I became a birth doula after attending a girlfriend’s birth. She went into labour and I was the one who ended up taking her to hospital and being there through the birth, which I was pretty excited about. The nurse said I should become a doula, so I did. Then I became qualified as a postpartum doula, and childbirth educator. A lot of the clients I’d been supporting were calling me after looking for support. The biggest area of concern was sleep. A friend suggested that I start calling myself the Sleep Doula. I trademarked it, and here I am. There are other people doing this, but I’ve been doing it the longest — 15 years now. There really wasn’t anyone doing this when I started.
In your experience, how common are sleep issues in families?
I would say 75 percent of families have problems with kids around sleep at some point. A lot of the situations are common, and I end up seeing the same issues again and again. Lots of parents face these same struggles. Right now I’m helping a pediatrician. She gets how you should be getting your child to sleep at night, but when you’re in the thick of it sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees.
What are some of the common issues you see?
A lot of moms get into a feeding their kids to sleep situation, so they get trapped by that. Then there are the early wakers where people think that their kids just won’t sleep longer and they need that encouragement to persevere and keep them in bed to reset their rhythm.
How do parents feel after you’ve got their kids sleeping through the night?
A lot of people are very grateful, and see that it is all common sense based. When they’re overwhelmed and exhausted they can’t really see how they got into this position, or how they can get out of it. I always find that parents feel very empowered after sleep training and they’ll tell me, “I feel like I have some control back over my life.”
Sleep training saves marriages too. My mom always used to say to me, “We hadn’t had one fight until the day you were born.” And you can see why, because one parent thinks things need to be done one way and the other thinks it should be done another. No one is happy when they are exhausted.
At what point should parents seek help in getting their kids to sleep?
A lot of times the older they are, the harder sleep problems are to fix. Five to seven months is a lot easier to deal with than nine-11 months for. I think that once you feel like you’re in the survival zone, you need to seek help. For some people that’s as soon as you’re home from the hospital, or the 5 month mark, or age two. When you feel like you’re doing things just to survive, or you’re putting yourself at risk by being so exhausted you shouldn’t be driving — that’s worse than being a drunk driver.
Are you really available all night for your clients?
Yes. The hardest thing about what I do is the schedule, and how it can affect your life. Last night I probably had a text from somebody every 45 minutes, so there’s that disturbance of my own sleep but also my family’s. That’s the hardest part, there’s no time when I’m fully off-call, even on vacation. It is hard to say no to helping people when they’re desperate. There are so many emotional things going on, and when you have parents calling you and crying, it’s hard to say no. It hasn’t been easy on my body all these years. But I love what I do.
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