One of the biggest challenges I continue to have with being a sleep educator is the stigma. It takes A LOT of effort for people to come to trust you and book you. Our data from our private practice suggests that people have known about us for at least 3-months before booking in. That is 3-months that people are continuing to suffer, because of the stigma associated with sleep educators. What are the underlying issues that create this stigma? Here are my five best answers:
1. Rife Misinformation
When you have a thorough understanding of every aspect of sleep, you will start to realise how much misinformation is spread around, masquerading as truth. You will constantly see those old wives’ tales circulating and it will become very painful to read other parents talk about sleep in parenting forums. When you cite the studies that contraindicate the old wives’ tales, you will find that people even argue the point then! Even best-selling authors are spreading misinformation about scheduled feeding, sleep training safety, blanket safety and sleeping position issues. Of course, there are still numerous different ways of doing things, but when information contraindicates a very solid body of research, credibility goes out the window. But because misinformation is more common than the truth, the main problem is, the popular opinion, true or not, tends to have the most backing from parents.
2. Poor Intentions
I really hate to say this, but this field is full of people that go in to this line of practice for the wrong reason. Money. This in itself makes me furious. This is not a field of practice that you can work in for the money. The truth of it is, is it can be quite emotionally taxing. You will work with quite broken parents who need you to help them get back on track. There is no amount of money that can make you the right person for this role. You have to have true empathy for your clients. It is even better if you have experienced what they are going through first-hand. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the money you will make will be bad, but it is not the reason why you would do this. People that work in this field for the money really do have poor intentions and this leads to parents being even more broken than they were to begin with, because they won’t be looked after like they should be, like a passionate sleep educator would.
3. Inconsistent Quality
Sleep educators have very inconsistent levels of training and sleep education is not a regulated field for practice. This leads to very inconsistent quality across the board. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is important for a Sleep Educator to have a particular type of professional background, but it is important that they are trained to a particular standard, and that we work towards a system for regulating what they know and how they practice. Which leads me to my next point…
4. Not Enough Training
Sleep Education is a profession that needs specific training. There is not a single university degree that will teach you the biological, physiological, behavioural and psychological components of sleep that you need to know. Even sleep professionals that have degrees are on the most part self-taught. Our clients have been doctors (including paediatricians and psychiatrists), psychologists, nurses and midwives, early childhood teachers and educators, occupational therapists etc. All of these professions have some understanding about sleep, but it is not their specialty. If you understand this issue inside and out, it is your specialty. But that is the issue. You need to be doing a course where you are required to interpret peer-reviewed research and apply it to your own practice philosophy if you are really going to be an effective sleep educator. We read all of the papers. Yes, it is boring. Yes, they have words in them that we need to check in the dictionary. Yes, it takes lots of our time. But that is what it takes for you to be the quality you should be to practice in this field. The other issue here is content. When a course only provides surface information like strategy and sleep training and misses out essentials like sleep science, psychology, physiological issues, milk feeding and nutrition, educators are only getting part of the picture, and are not able to practice in a completely holistic way.
5. Lack of Support
When Sleep Educators are finished their training, they tend to be quite isolated from their peers. It tends to be a field where the vast majority of Educators work independently. Unless a newly qualified educator can find an experienced educator to work for, or there are good mentoring systems in place, mistakes will be made, and quality will continue to be inconsistent. Regulation will contribute to improving this system, as Sleep Educators will likely have to maintain their training and upskill as a part of their registration. But this may be some time away yet.
Based on these five professional issues, you can see why we all need to work together to raise the standard and work towards regulation together.
Jade is a Director and Lecturer at the Institute of Parenting Support Services and Director and Senior Educator at Early Childhood Parenting. She practices in Adelaide, South Australia. She is the mother of two beautiful children. You can reach her at 0415507004 or firstname.lastname@example.org