Sleep Safety Tips from Swellbeing

Janeen Hayward founded Swellbeing, a parenting consultancy, shortly after the birth of her first daughter in 2006. As a child development professional with a master's degree in clinical psychology, Janeen helps parents navigate the difficult terrain around sleep and offers advice and support on a host of other developmental issues including potty training, positive discipline and sibling preparation.  In short, she helps parents nurture healthy and happy children. Outside of work, Janeen has the delight of raising two young daughters with her husband.

She was kind enough to share some of her advice below.

You have an extensive background with clinical psychology, how did your work here lead you to the start of Swellbeing?

After working for a few years in a couple Chicago public schools, my husband and I were relocated to NYC. I worked in a public school in NYC for a year before starting to work for a parenting organization in the city. In my first new parent support group I knew I had found my niche! I loved talking with families about their changing identities as they grew into their new roles as mother and father, as well as talking with them about their young child’s development. It was a perfect fit for me!

What do you find most helpful from your clinical psychology background when guiding new parents through the transition to parenthood?

My understanding of how the relationships we have throughout our lifetime, as well as our innate temperament traits, shape the person and parent we become.  Parenting can sometimes trigger painful or upsetting memories and feelings, but when parents are able to keep their own emotional reactions in check, they are best able to help their child to learn and grow.

We have heard you speak at the Bump Club and Beyond dinners about sleep safety/sleep tricks, why is this knowledge so important?

Through research we have learned quite a lot about how to minimize the risk factors for SIDS. If there is any tidbit of information that could spare a family that horrible tragedy, then I want to pass it along.

Furthermore, it has consistently been my experience that when parents understand the science of sleep and can answer the ‘why’ question regarding challenges they’re having, parents are empowered to make changes that have a positive impact on the entire family.

What do parents struggle with most when dealing with sleep issues?

Setting limits. Parenting is very hard work and by the time bedtime rolls around, it can be challenging to be consistent, kind and firm.  Yet, this is precisely what kids need.

Why is sleep so important to you?

I have come to understand and appreciate how important healthy sleep is for the developing brain. I know that there are significant choices parents can make in terms of their child’s sleep environment, clothing and positioning that can make a dramatic difference for the lifelong health of their child. I take my responsibility to share what I know very seriously.

Can you provide some useful tips people can try now?

#1 Keep the room cool. Children sleep best when the temperature is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. This also reduces the risk of overheating, one of the biggest risk factors, especially in winter months.

#2 Once your baby is no longer being swaddled you can switch to a sleep sack, also called a wearable blanket. Sleep sacks are a great way to ensure your baby stays safely covered all night, plus it is a great sleep association for wee ones.

What is the one take away you can provide for a new parent that could potentially change tonight's sleep?

Learn your child’s tolerance for wakefulness. Often kids are kept up beyond the point at which their bodies are telling them it’s time for sleep and they get overtired.  Kids who are overtired and stressed produce stress hormones — those hormones act like adrenaline and give them a burst of energy, which makes bedtime harder and often leads to night wakings/early rising. Getting your child to bed at his/her optimal time will not only lead to better sleep, but will directly impact your child’s energy level and mood tomorrow!