The Malta Independent 22 May 2019, Wednesday

FIRST: Solving unhealthy sleeping patterns and the glass half-full approach

Joanna Demarco Thursday, 15 November 2018, 10:16 Last update: about 7 months ago

From struggling night after night with a baby that couldn’t get to sleep, and not getting any sleep herself in the process, Becky Gingell now guides parents on how to solve terrible sleeping patterns, and teaches empowering parenting skills.

We have all experienced at least one night of hardly any sleep and the repercussions of this: a very low tolerance level, for example, making us quite unapproachable, and the inability to concentrate properly on any job at hand, resulting in us being rather useless and generally unpleasant. For many parents struggling with their baby's sleeping patterns however, this is a daily occurrence, so over a long period, the repercussions become more and more serious and unbearable. This is where Becky Gingell, one of the Malta's few sleep coaches, steps in.


A counsellor and play therapist by profession, Becky was faced with this exhaustion-inducing issue when the sleeping patterns of her first child, Matthew, prevented her from getting a single night's decent sleep. In hindsight, however, she now sees this as a blessing in disguise, because her experience resulted in her helping hundreds of other distraught parents going through the same thing.

"When Matthew was 14 months old and still not sleeping properly I was panicking because, night after night I was unable to get any sleep. I cannot handle sleepless nights, and the more over-tired I became, the more I simply couldn't get to sleep," Becky told me. Of course, sleepless nights cause not only fatigue, but a whole range of symptoms that result from the fatigue itself. "I became a nightmare," she said, bluntly. "I was anxious, lost my temper and became irritable which, in turn, had a huge effect on my relationships. At the same time, my son wasn't sleeping well so he was always whining and cranky... it was basically one hugely stressed-out house."

As one does, in her state of fatigue Becky turned to Google for help and soon discovered the concept of 'sleep coaching' through a group based in America who could offer help virtually. "I told them I didn't care how much it cost, could they just help me out!" she recalled. In no time at all, she had put what she learnt into practise and in about two-and-a-half weeks, from waking up six times a night, baby Matthew was sleeping the whole night through and, as a result, so was Becky.

Noticing that the concept of sleep coaching did not exist in Malta, and acknowledging her background in counselling and play therapy, Becky's tutor asked her if she would like to train to become a sleep coach herself. Becky was up for the idea: "I then coached my second child, and some of my friends, and the results I saw were all positive. So I thought I would put what I had learnt into practise and see if it would catch on in Malta and slowly, slowly, people are becoming more and more open to the idea."

By meeting many clients, Becky sees her experience reflected in other people. "Having now seen so many clients, I realise that they all come to me with the same symptoms so, in a way, it's good that I went through it myself because I can completely empathise with them."


The change is in the prop

"Parents just want to get to sleep, so they do anything to get their baby to sleep in order for them to be able to as well," she explained, when asked what causes these sleepless nights. "The thing is that a baby becomes used to the ways that their parents get them to sleep and this becomes a 'prop' of sorts. So if the baby wakes up, then the only way it can get back to sleep is with that sleep prop."

This prop, such as rocking or walking, must therefore be replaced by self-soothing, removing the parent from the equation when it comes to seeping. "What you do with coaching is that you teach the parent different ways of how to, in turn, teach the baby how to self-soothe, completely weaning them off whatever prop they are addicted to", said Becky. Then they learn their own way of getting themselves to sleep: with their dummy, rolling around or making their own baby sound, for example."

Sleep coaching is not specifically for babies however. Similar skills apply to teach children - even those as old as 10 or 11 - to sleep alone. The underlying determining factor must be that the parents are ready to help their children sleep on their own.

"It could be that there is a natural shift, but there are also those children who feel helpless without their parents, and if the parents keep them there, they are only reinforcing that feeling of helplessness. So parents need to empower their children in that way," she said. 

Other tips such as structure, a bedtime routine, having a winding-down period, not going to sleep too late and avoiding watching a television or computer screen before bedtime are other factors that are sure to help the situation.

The glass half-full approach

Becky's experience as a counsellor and sleeping coach has recently taken her to her next venture: training to become a 'parent coach'. With such a role, she aims to provide parents with a set of skills by which they can raise their children in a way that is most beneficial to the child's sense of wellbeing and empowerment.

"Working in counselling has made me realise that, when it comes to parents, through no fault of their own they may not be equipped with information about how to work with their children in a particular way," she explained. "I am now planning to have a course in my name so that I can work with parents and show them certain skills that they can then use with their own children."

These skills can be adapted go suit different ages and include emotional coaching: how to read your child's emotions, giving them an emotional language and using the 'glass half-full' approach. "I felt I needed to empower parents so that they can work with their child who has problems and enforce certain behaviour, support the things the child does well, can see the glass as being half-full instead of half-empty and give them a belief in themselves."









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