Certified Sleep Consultant, Melissa Doman, shares easy-to-implement and effective sleep training strategies that give everyone in your household a good night’s rest.
- “For my special needs families that I work with, I teach them all about sleep deprivation and not getting enough sleep. It can affect the brain growth and development a lot of different ways.” – Melissa Doman
- “I think a lot of parent that I talked to, their biggest concern is that they know they can’t be the parent that they want to be like, they’re so exhausted. They lose it at the drop of a hat and there’s guilt behind that too.” – Melissa Doman
- “They know when they’re sleep deprived they’re not the best parent, they’re not the best partner.” – Melissa Doman
- 1:03 – Why is sleep training important
- 2:35 – The impacts of poor sleep
- 7:00 – Tips for families to help your child sleep better
- 15:19 – When to start sleep training
- 20:47 – Get in touch with Melissa
[00:00:00] Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.
[00:00:17] Emily Melious: Welcome back everybody. I’m glad to have you here again for another episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. We’re talking with Melissa Doman today, and she’s a sleep consultant for special needs families. She has over a decade of experience teaching parents of children with a variety of diagnoses, including cerebral palsy, trisomy 21, autism, ADD, ADHD, developmental delays, and more. She loves coaching parents to get their kids sleeping well and independently, and coming from a mom who had bad sleepers, oh, I know how amazing that is. So Melissa, thanks for coming on.
[00:00:59] Melissa Doman: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.
[00:01:02] Emily Melious: Sure. So, let’s just get right to it and talk about, why is sleep training so important for, I would say kids in general, but particularly kids with special needs?
[00:01:15] Melissa Doman: Yeah. So, I mean look, the whole concept of sleep training, this was introduced to me probably six years ago or something like that. I’m a child brain developmentalist, I’m a Doman method coach by training, and I’ve been doing that for almost 12 years now. And a mom told me about it, she did a sleep training program with her child with CP, and reading through it I was like, this is incredible. Like there’s so much potential here. And, you know, honestly, regardless of what approach you use with sleep training, it’s so important for brain growth and development that kids are getting the hours of sleep that they need.
[00:01:54] And unfortunately just, you know, in the years of smart devices and busy schedules and this and that, like it’s unfortunately just one thing that kids are just not getting enough of. So, it’s an amazing way to just teach your child at a young age some amazing sleep habits. That sleep is a good thing. And also just, for parents to get a little bit of a break at the end of the day, just to make sure their child’s getting to bed nice and early, getting the sleep that they need and parents have a little time to themselves, too.
[00:02:26] Emily Melious: That is so important from both sides of the equation. And Melissa, I realize that some of the effects might be obvious, but talk us through all of the impacts that poor sleep has, not only on the child, but also on the family.
[00:02:42] Melissa Doman: Yeah, sure. Well, I mean, there’s those obvious, like kind of short term things of, they’re not as happy. They’re a little more cranky, more prone to temper tantrums. You know, for my special needs families that I work with, I teach them all about sleep deprivation and not getting enough sleep. It can affect the brain growth and development a lot of different ways. Like the area of the brain where sleep is controlled, all the next door neighbors are sensory integration, language, balance, all of those things. So if a child has any developmental issues in those areas, if their sleep is not great, there’s going to be really negative ripple effects there.
[00:03:23] And of course, like on the long-term, as doom and gloom as it sounds, you know, for kids who don’t get enough sleep, it can negatively affect heart health. It can lead to major pediatric conditions like type two diabetes, all sorts of stuff. So, it’s one of those things that, if it goes on long enough, like the longterm effects are going to be pretty startling. But the amazing thing is, is that it’s also one of these processes that you can get back on track fairly quickly. And it’s almost as if like, the body and brain is like, thank you, okay I’m getting what I need now.
[00:03:57] Emily Melious: Yeah, it knows that’s like home base, and it’s somehow gotten off home, but when you come back it’s like, yeah. Okay, we’re good again. Yeah, and let’s talk about the parents because I’m sure when you meet parents, they’re at various places in this journey, but I have a feeling many of them are probably at their wit’s end.
[00:04:18] And when your child isn’t sleeping, you’re not sleeping. I mean, what is it doing to the parents and their brains and their lives and their health when they’re, you know, dealing with the child who’s not sleeping well?
[00:04:31] Melissa Doman: Yeah. I mean, like you said, parents come and find me at all different stages of it. And very often parents will say, I bet you’ve got my email at 3:00 AM saying I’m at my wit’s end. And usually that’s when I get my messages. But for parents, I think a lot of parents that I talk to, their biggest concerns is that they know they can’t be parent that they want to be. Like, they’re so exhausted, they lose it at the drop of a hat, and there’s guilt behind that too. And like the last thing parents should be feeling, guilty about anything. So like they know when they’re sleep deprived, they’re not the best parent, they’re not the best partner.
[00:05:08] And I mean, I’ve had some moms tell me like, they’re losing their hair, they’re having major heart issues, from having chronic sleep deprivation, you know, when their kid is waking up for three, four hours every single night, that can definitely affect things.
[00:05:24] Emily Melious: Wow. I can identify with a lot of those, unfortunately. My kids, just weren’t good sleepers. And even now my older son, we kind of say he just doesn’t really turn his brain off. And I’m not sure exactly, you know, there might be something more to it. I think his internal clock is just in a different spot, but he never was that kid who would just sleep. I mean, when I saw other kids sleep in a car, I’m like, oh, what a novelty. So I realized that these aren’t necessarily to the degree of challenges and frustrations that you’re facing with the families you’re talking to, but any level of sleep disruption is just hard.
[00:06:02] Melissa Doman: Yeah. Any of that for a couple of weeks would KO most people. Yeah, and I mean, I think for parents, like for so long, and I know this talking to my mother-in-law and my mom, like, it was just, this is what happens. This is our badge of honor, so to speak, that we wear. But I think a lot of parents in our generation are like, no, it doesn’t have to be that way.
[00:06:23] And, you know, I think that’s what the beauty of sleep training and teaching that at such a young age is. This isn’t something that kids have to go through. And, you know for sure, I mean there are plenty of kids who have different sleep needs. There are some on that lower end, some on the higher end. But in my opinion, you know, having worked with kids on all areas of that spectrum, even if their sleep needs are less, you can teach them how to get good quality sleep when they do sleep. And they’re all the better for it afterwards.
[00:06:53] Emily Melious: So let’s talk about just that. So what are your most important tips for families to help their child sleep better?
[00:07:00] Melissa Doman: Yeah. Well, and so I will preface this by saying like, most of these things I think parents read and as I go through them they’re like, okay, yeah, got it. But sometimes it really just comes down to like, doing it consistently. Like I think sometimes parents will try things and it doesn’t work a couple of nights, and then they throw it away, it’s out. But, what you’ll have to remember is that, any changes that you make, whether it’s to routine, schedule, whatever, it probably takes two to three weeks to really get solid.
[00:07:31] Emily Melious: Wow. Okay, so I’m guilty of the like, two nights didn’t work, okay what’s next? two three weeks, that’s really helpful though. Just in and of itself to right-size our expectations, and not quit before we can feel the benefit. Okay, so give all of these a solid two to three weeks try before you give up. Okay, and so now what do we do? Now that we’ve got our heads in the right space, what’s our first step?
[00:07:56] Melissa Doman: Alright, so the first step are usually some of the easiest ones, and they don’t actually have, like directly have to do with bedroom, going into the bed, anything like that. It’s just, you gotta limit screen time, you gotta make sure your child is active. And at least just start trying to implement an earlier bedtime. In my four and a half, five years of doing this, these are the three things that I will keep coming back to.
[00:08:22] And when parents really put them into place, it can take them like 40 to 50% of the way there with some of their child’s sleep struggles. And again, they’re not like groundbreaking in any way. It’s just, when you do them and you know why you’re doing them, it can have a big impact. So like if we’re talking about screen time and, I know with COVID, this has been very difficult with school being virtual, therapy being virtual, and everybody working at home.
[00:08:50] But for the population of kids that I work with, very often they’re dealing with sensory issues like auditory sensitivity, they’re tactically seeking, or they’re avoiding things. But very often that visual pathway is ignored. And most kids that I work with, the amount of screen time that they get and that blue light actually racks up.
[00:09:12] So even if you do cut it an hour before bedtime, which is a good place to start, sometimes you even have to look at the amount of hours during the day. I mean, I’ve had some kids where the parents know if they go over 30 minutes, that’s it. Their night is done. So, you know, I think at least start by eliminating all screens at least an hour before bedtime, but I would also recommend trying to limit it to like an hour and a half tops during the day. If a child has any major sensory issues, that’s a great place to start.
[00:09:44] Emily Melious: That’s really interesting, an hour and a half, and I really didn’t think about it being cumulative, and that’s really interesting to have that thought process, both in timing beforehand and just timing throughout the day.
[00:09:59] Melissa Doman: That was something that I kind of learned over time where I was asking parents to cut it an hour before they were religious about it, and everything else that we had implemented, something just wasn’t clicking. So at a certain point, you have to just take each one of these elements and figure out like, okay, maybe we do have to put a limit on it.
[00:10:18] And, you know, again, in my experience, I’ve found anything over an hour and a half is usually a little too much. Like I said, the other major one is just making sure kids are active. And, of course again with COVID, like we’re all inside more and hopefully that’s changing.
[00:10:36] But for recreating that need to go to sleep, you have to make sure that you’re not only getting physical activity, but you’re getting organized activity. So a lot of times like the parents I talked to of very hyperactive children, they’ll say to me, oh my kid’s just running around the house all day long. Like, can’t stop them. But it’s disorganized movement, it’s chaotic movement. And as soon as they go outside and they’re just out for a rhythmic walk, it’s a totally different thing. And the added benefit to it is like, it’s not just burning energy to go to sleep, it’s actually organizing the areas of the brain that are working overtime at night.
[00:11:16] So any little bit of stimulation that you can do with that walking, can make a huge difference. And I was just talking to a family this week, we’ve been working together for a couple months and just in the last couple of weeks or so, they’ve been able to get their daughter out more consistently for walks and her sleep has improved significantly.
[00:11:38] Like that was the last piece they had to put in. And once they did it, you know, we talked yesterday and they were like, we’re doing great. Everything’s fine now. Now there are other things we implemented, but like that final piece, it was such a good reminder to me to say like, you just got to get active.
[00:11:56] Now on the other hand, like there are some kids that I work with where again, some activity is a little too much and I’ll have parents write down how much physical activity their child’s getting. And there have been times where we notice every time they go over, you know, three hours, the night is more fragmented, they’re up more, so like, there’s a balance with that as well. So, being active is important, but you want to make sure it’s in the right parameters for your child, too.
[00:12:27] Emily Melious: Well, you’re teaching me to think more about the connection between what they’re doing during the day and sleeping. And as you laid out, like you said, it seems obvious, but I focus so much more about those moments at bedtime, or the setting or the environment, or again, maybe that hour and a half before of no screen time.
[00:12:49] I was over focusing in my problem solving efforts to that part of the day, not everything that preceded it. And that makes so much sense. And I love that you’re also saying, you know, in the spirit of Mothers of Misfits, there’s no one size fits all solution. That there are some things to look for, but your child’s formula might be different than the next child’s formula, and for this person, it might be two hours, for that person it might be 30 minutes. But these seem to be at least the major levers that as we pull this lever, see what happens, pull that lever, see what happens. You know, these seem to be the things that as we adjust, we get the biggest impact. Am I right on that?
[00:13:31] Melissa Doman: Yeah. And I don’t ever want parents to have to do 20 different things to get a good night’s rest. Like there are times where, yeah, I mean, there are times where parents are doing something for three weeks and they’re like, I’m not seeing anything out of it. So it’s like great, let’s just stop then. If you’re not seeing changes, let’s hone it down to the absolute necessary things for your child. And once you get that little arsenal put together, you’re set. Now you, I mean, you did mention like focusing on like bedtime and things like that, of course that’s important too. But it very often, like the daytime stuff is just, it’s kind of like gravy when you’re talking about sleep training, but for me it’s actually the first area that I focus on with most of my families. Like, get that going well first, then let’s talk about nighttime. So, yeah, in those cases, it just goes a lot smoother. Now one thing I did mention before was just like, you have to make sure that bedtime is early enough.
[00:14:27] It’s the right time for your child. And sometimes I will have parents just start off by writing down when they are putting their child in bed, how long it takes them to fall asleep so that we could figure out, like, what is that ideal bedtime for Harry, or what’s that ideal bedtime for Sarah? Like whatever that is, that’s going to work out a lot better than us just saying, alright, let’s start here and force them on that schedule. You know, that can backfire too.
[00:14:55] Emily Melious: I’m curious to hear from you, what’s the ideal age if there is one, talking about screen time makes me think maybe we’re in to an older child. I know when I was a newer parent, when I heard sleep training, I was thinking more of infant stage. When’s the time to do this?
[00:15:11] Melissa Doman: Well, I always encourage parents earlier the better, just because kids learn so much faster in those first six years of life. And I don’t work with babies all that often anymore, but I’ve worked with babies as young as six weeks old, 10 weeks old, and it’s amazing how just putting a few routines into place and giving that comfort when needed, encouraging a little bit of space, like, I’ll have these parents will write me. And this was, you know, now their kids are three and a half, four years old saying like, things are still going great with sleep. And, you know, from time to time, little blips come up and we’ll answer those questions. But there’s no specific minimum age that you have to wait for to start.
[00:15:57] And I think ultimately it kind of depends on what parents’ needs are at that point, what they feel comfortable with, what they feel ready for. You know, I’m never going to shame a parent for waiting until their child was four years old to get things going. It’s just, it’s got to feel like the right time for you too, as a mom or a dad.
[00:16:17] Emily Melious: What are your thoughts on medications, and specifically melatonin? I actually, the timing of this is interesting, cause I was just on one of my Facebook groups, I saw on the feed, a mom was saying, hey, I’m struggling for my child, I don’t recall what age, but to sleep. And several of the moms responded back with melatonin gummies.
[00:16:38] So, you know, they work like a charm. They’re great. We have, you know, great experiences with that. And I actually, because of that, I checked in with my nutritionist and asked her, you know, are these really something? And maybe we should consider them. And she actually was much more hesitant. And of course, you know, this is something every family has to decide for themselves and consult with your physician, but that was interesting because what I saw on the Facebook feed was really different than her reaction. So I’d like to get from your perspective, what do you think about those things? Should they be our first solution? Should they be the last solution? Should they not at all be part of the solution?
[00:17:19] Melissa Doman: Yeah. So, what I will preface this by saying is that I understand that some parents, they just get to a point where it’s like, alright, we just need some sleep. Like, let’s just give them melatonin. Let’s kind of calm things down a little bit and then regroup, refocus, and see where we got to go next.
[00:17:37] For a lot of the parents that I talk to though, like, they’ll say to me, I came to my pediatrician, I said we were having sleep issues, and all they said was just give melatonin. Then they shooed me out of the office, right? And I think for a lot of special needs parents, like that is very often the response. And it’s really what the doctor is, or the specialist is kind of saying is, I don’t really know how to help you, so just take this and, hope for the best, right? It’s a bandaid. Absolutely. And for a lot of those parents, like, yes, it gives some relief temporarily. A lot of the kids that I work with, it has the complete opposite effect and parents know right away. Like whoop, nope, not doing that. Nope.
[00:18:16] Yeah, and here’s the thing, I mean, melatonin itself is supposed to just be a temporary relief when you’re having some stretch of sleep issues, right? Or if you’re traveling and you need to reset your clock as quickly as possible. It’s not meant to be used on the long-term and for kids, we really have no idea, like what are the long-term effects of using a synthetic hormone to help with sleep?
[00:18:41] You know, there are some studies that say it might fatigue the pineal gland that creates melatonin, it creates a dependence. So for me, if a family comes to me and we start working together, at first we don’t touch it. We actually get all the good sleep habits in. We put all of the techniques into place first, and then we start to take it away.
[00:19:02] And I would say half the time, parents just start to cut it on their own. They just say, alright, well we’ve put all these things into place. It’s been a great few weeks, and they are able to stop it with seemingly very little ripple effect. The other 50% of kids, their body is a little bit more dependent on it. And at that point, we just talk about how to slowly take it out of the system and allow the body to recalibrate those levels naturally. But I, you know, being in a bunch of Facebook groups similar to this, it drives me crazy. Like, this is the first solution, and for me it’s like, no, there’s so many other amazing things that you can do that are no medication, no melatonin, that are just lifestyle changes that are really for the better for the child, for the parents, for the whole family.
[00:19:52] Emily Melious: Exactly. Yeah, and I know we want to do what’s right for our kids and I get that desperation moment. I mean, I really get it. Where you’re ready to just do what it takes to get one good night’s rest, but it’s encouraging to hear that there really is something, a better way, and it’s better for the whole family. It’s better for your child in the long run. And I’ve already learned so much from this conversation. So Melissa, if folks listening want a better night’s sleep, how can they get in touch with you and get your help?
[00:20:21] Melissa Doman: Perfect. So they can find me on Facebook at Melissa Doman Sleep Consulting. I’m also on Instagram. My handle is specialneedssleepcoach. So you can find me there where I’m constantly posting like tips and videos and stuff like that. And of course you can always visit my website, Melissadomansleepconsulting.com.
[00:20:42] Emily Melious: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on today and helping us all get a better night’s rest. We could all use it.
[00:20:50] Melissa Doman: Thank you so much, Emily. It was a real pleasure.
[00:20:53] Emily Melious: Likewise.
[00:20:54] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com.