Gentle & Responsive Approaches to Sleep

Parents often want to know what taking a gentle or responsive approach to sleep really means. I also get asked how sleep consultants or coaches work.

It’s a minefield for parents when even within the NHS things vary so much…some health visitors advocate responsive approaches and others definitely don’t. If you are looking for a gentle approach that doesn’t involve sleep training or cry it out, how do you know if the person you are going to has an approach that is actually gentle?

It saddens me that there are a significant number of sleep consultants saying they are gentle when they really aren’t.

Just a note – this post isn’t about the different approaches to sleep, it’s about helping parents to find a consultant who meets their needs and expectations for their situation.

So…what is a gentle approach to sleep?

A gentle sleep consultant won’t promise you that they can get your baby sleeping through the night, and they won’t guarantee quick results. That’s not to say that gentle approaches can’t bring about change quickly – they can – but guaranteeing it is a red flag.

They will look at the whole picture of your child’s life – their pregnancy, birth, life so far, possible underlying causes, emotions, behavioural responses, changes in your family’s life, possible causes of stress, and the child’s relationships.

They will look at everything around sleep as well as sleep itself – in fact they will probably start with addressing other factors in your child’s development as a way of supporting sleep.

They will talk about children and babies respectfully across their website, social media and any promotions.

They will be more likely to talk about sleep pressure, hormones, rhythms, and sleep hygiene, rather than talking about strict schedules, bad habits, negative sleep associations, self-settling and age related expectations such as when they “should” be sleeping through.

Gentle sleep coaches will tend to explicitly state they don’t do CIO/ sleep training / extinction methods.

Approaches that are sleep training in disguise often use “friendly” words and methods to try and make it sound more gentle such as ”ssh pat” and “teaching” instead of training.

Gentle sleep coaches will talk about biological and developmental norms, while also respecting each and child and family’s individual needs and preferences.