Currently, it may surprise you to find out that Sleep Education is a completely unregulated field of practice. Anyone can be a Sleep Educator, and there are no rules about the level of training one must have, there are no regulations and there is no code of ethics. In my eyes, this is super risky. Just do a quick google search, and you will very quickly become confused about what sleep information is useful, and what isn’t. There is currently absolutely no way of quickly identifying those sources that are reliable either. Here are my ideas of some of the topics that will need to be discussed on the road to establishing regulation:
Having a code of ethics in place will protect the educator, the client and their child. Unfortunately, there is some significant variation in ethical practice currently, and we hear horror stories in our private practice all the time about parent’s parenting styles being disregarded, children being left alone crying for excessive time periods, educators continuing to work with families when their child has a serious underlying health issue or even those who fail to have a clear refund policy. A code of ethics that Sleep Educators can adhere to will help to change all of these problems and more, and give families peace of mind of the way Sleep Educators will treat them.
Cry-Based Sleep Training Methods:
Currently, the research in regard to cry-based methods is quite blurry, however there are studies that indicate that the methods are safe, when used to strict guidelines. The problem is, that the methods are not used to strict guidelines. The methods are often used by undertrained Sleep Educators who are not aware that the methods are contraindicated for mouth breathing, sleep disordered breathing and the worst of the worst, sleep apnoea. This means that the methods are often used in very risky circumstances, and parents are not even remotely aware. The other issue is the length of time they are used. So many Sleep Educators start a cry based plan, and either don’t see their client through, or don’t know what to do if it doesn’t work.This is actually when it gets really dangerous, both physically and psychologically. I have had clients who have, under the guidance of another Sleep Educator, cried it out for 7-HOURS, or have used cry based sleep training for MONTHS not knowing the impact this could have. This is simply one of the most horrifying areas of practice that is used, often in the completely wrong way. Just to clarify this point, cry based methods can be used, but only under very strict conditions with a competently educated professional.
I am really not happy to be saying this, but when I was first working as a Sleep Educator, I probably shouldn’t have been. I was super lucky not to have made any significant errors, but my level of training certainly did not lend to the high quality practice we should expect across the board. If it weren’t for my own high level of curiosity, my ignorance would have remained that way too. I have read upwards of 500 studies to up-skill myself and I have trained my team at every step along the way. Lucky for you, we have downloaded our knowledge in to a comprehensive course, so you don’t have to do the same.
Just because an educator says their practice is based on evidence, doesn’t mean they understand the science and associated psychology in relation to sleep. If a sleep educator can’t explain to your basically how the circadian rhythm works, how the hormones and neurotransmitters work and thoroughly discuss the psychology of crying with you, then you should be moving on. It is a parent’s right to understand WHY they are doing what they are doing. Often they are just told what to do with very minimal explanation, and this is simply not good enough to allow them to make informed decisions about their child’s sleep.
Too often, sleep educators have no idea when to refer and who to refer to. They just keep pushing with sleep training, when there is clearly something going wrong. I almost never conduct a consult without referring a client to someone. Those who I recommend frequently include GPs, Lactation Consultants, ENTs, Orofacial Myologists, Dietician/Nutritionists, Feeding Specialised Speech Pathologists and Chiropractors/Osteopaths. There is ALWAYS a reason why a child is not sleeping well, and it is almost NEVER behavioural. Understanding the different levels of problems that can occur and whether it is appropriate to continue working with the child is incredibly important, but mostly not explored well in courses.
I have probably only just hit the tip of the iceberg here. In the future I will expect to be a part of creating a regulatory body for our profession so that we can address these issues and so many more, and so people who are not practicing to the standard can be addressed. I would love to know your thoughts about other areas you think should be explored.
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 email@example.com