New business owner Julia Carlson says most adults tend to take sleep for granted, right up until we’re suddenly not getting any. Carlson would know, as it was her own struggle with sleeplessness that recently prompted her to change her career path.
Her business, a sleep consultant service that she calls The Well Rested Nest, will complete its first year of operations next month.
“This first year, I’ve worked with about 30 families, helping them to achieve their own ‘well rested nest,’” she says.
Carlson is a certified pediatric sleep specialist, and her entire focus is on helping families develop plans for resolving sleep issues for children ranging in age from 4 months to 6 years old.
She says the sleep issues she assists with can include nap and bedtime refusal, cat-napping, sleep transitions such as adjusting to a new bed or environment, suddenly waking early or waking at night, needing an object or parent nearby in order to fall asleep, and difficulties falling and staying asleep.
According to Carlson, each sleep support plan is personalized, catering to individual family and sleep situations. While a plan may initially resolve just one issue, she says each is also designed to establish long-term sleep benefits for the whole family.
“People’s beliefs about sleep are so deeply ingrained that most people hear ‘sleep consultant’ and automatically assume I just tell people to let their babies cry it out, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” she says. “For me, it’s not about convincing people there’s a right or wrong way to do things. Each family has the right to choose.”
Originally from Spokane, Carlson moved away for several years to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in public health from Central Washington University and a master’s degree in health education from Idaho State University.
Prior to moving back to Spokane in September of 2015, she worked as a wellness coach for Premise Health, a Tennessee-based worksite health company that was operating Microsoft Corp.’s health and wellness center on its main campus, in Redmond, Wash.
“I was used to helping coach people toward healthier lifestyles,” Carlson says. “So when we decided to move back to Spokane, my career and family lives came together, and I started to feel like this was the right choice for me.”
She says her own sleepless experience started when her son, Emmett, now a 2-year-old, began to have difficulty sleeping at 6 months old.
“After months of sleepless nights, I realized I needed to find a sleep consultant,” she says. “A good night’s rest affects every aspect of life and family dynamics, and it was amazing the difference it made for us.”
With her baby sleeping peacefully, Carlson then set about getting trained as a pediatric sleep specialist, taking a 16-week online course through the Family Sleep Institute, a Sellersville, Pa.-based school founded in 2011 by Deborah Pedrick.
“The course had lots of required reading, attendance, research assignments, and a final project that included documented work with three volunteer families,” says Carlson.
While the program accepts applications from all over the world, so far its website lists Carlson as the only graduate operating in Washington state.
In addition to being a trained wellness coach and certified pediatric sleep specialist, Carlson is a lactation consultant and has also completed a course on reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Also known as crib death, SIDS is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.
After completing the program in January 2016, Carlson quickly set about starting The Well Rested Nest.
“I got a lot of support and advice from other program graduates,” she says. “The biggest challenge was in finding and appealing to a market, and overcoming the misconceptions of what people think I do.”
When meeting new clients, Carlson says she starts with a 15-minute introductory phone call, to hear firsthand what the issue is, get a sense of the challenges involved, and determine whether the parents’ goals are realistic.
“I ask all parents to fill out a seven-page intake form with detailed questions to help understand the family dynamic, the child’s overall health, and any stressful impacts the family is going through,” she says.
Carlson then provides the family feedback based on their answers and starts the process of creating a custom sleep plan that is both biologically and developmentally based.
“It takes into account environment, timing, total hours of sleep, and age,” she says. “The biological schedule helps keep children on a sleep pattern that’s age appropriate for their physical needs.”
She adds that some plans include additional special considerations like the need for night feeding, swaddling, and pacifier use, as well as things like sleep boundaries and manners for older children.
Carlson offers parents two or three choices in sleep plans, allowing them to choose which one fits their comfortability and parenting philosophy.
She lists several sleep-plan packages on her website, ranging in price from $100 for a basic consult to a two-week sleep shaping package at $250.
“The package depends on the sleep issue and the level of support each family feels they need,” she says. “I’ve found the two-week package is the most detailed and useful for parents. Each package is designed to resolve the issue as well as set the stage for long-term success.”
Both Carlson’s website and Facebook page include informational materials and tips for dealing with sleep issues, links to a blog detailing her experiences, and occasional give-away prize contests.
She does most of her work by phone or email from her home on Spokane’s South Hill, but provides in-home support for families as needed, an aspect of the business that she says she put on hold this year due to her second pregnancy with daughter Finley, now 3 months old.
On average, Carlson says she works with three to six families per week, depending on the season.
“Summer is a little more relaxed, while winter tends to be a bit busier. It seems like every baby has a New Year’s resolution not to sleep,” she says, laughing. “Sleep can be an unpredictable business.”
Carlson says the majority of her business is local, with clients being referred to her by pediatricians or clients who are familiar with her work. Others find her online, or through various quarterly presentations she gives for local groups.
“Occasionally I’m asked to speak, so I’ll chose a topic and material to match the group I’m presenting to,” she says. “I did four seminars last year and have another coming up this month for Spokane’s Mindful Mamas group.”
Carlson says the toughest group of children to work with are the youngest, particularly babies in the 4- to 6-month age range.
“They’re still learning and adjusting to life outside the womb, and there are factors like night feeding to work in,” she says.
One of the most common issues she says she sees families struggling with are children who have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep alone.
“That’s why it’s important that each plan starts with developing healthy, age-appropriate habits that will lead to long-term benefits,” she says.
Carlson says the best part of her job is seeing the transformation both in children and their families.
“The impact is so positive,” she says. “Some clients have become dear friends of mine, and I appreciate having been invited into their lives.”
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