The Top 10! Q & A with Lucy Wolfe, Owner of “Sleep Matters” in Ireland
What made you decide you wanted to become a sleep consultant?
I had a calling from the land of sleep deprivation that spiked my interest in child sleep behaviour, when my eldest, now almost 14 years old, put us through our paces. From there I developed an interest in this field and decided that there were limited resources for parents in Ireland at the time and it seemed like a natural progression from initially just being well read and helping friends and family members to ultimately seeking training and qualifications and providing the service in a professional capacity. Looking back, it is as if this job was what all my professional and parenting life has been about and I am in the privileged position, like many of us, to help families through their issues with education, support and effective communication.
What do you love most about your job? And what is the most challenging aspect?
I think universally we would all say that the transformation we are responsible for when we successfully help a family is the best thing about this job. But on a day by day basis I love the different interactions with so many varied individuals from so many walks of life. I really like getting to know the families, and sharing their journey - and of course I love the end when you have made such a difference to their lives and that they are empowered and informed as a result! Once, a family named their second child after me, and that just makes you think of the impact that you can have during the time you share.
The most challenging aspect is probably the work - life balance. I also have four children who are currently 13, 11, 9 and 5 years of age, along with a very patient husband! My practice is very busy and although I am great at working regular business hours and no contact outside certain times, I still feel that I am not getting the balance right and that I will regret working so much and not spending more time with the kids...I can never get it right! But I am constantly trying! I work full time Monday to Friday and try to finish early on 2 days, but it can be challenging. I also often have media commitments that eat into our leisure time, and that’s the hardest part!
Most common sleep difficulties encountered?
Routinely the issues are dependency orientated and timekeeping too. Families that are inadvertently observing a late bedtime (and all the issues that come with that), using bottles and/or nursing to achieve and maintain sleep, and unplanned bed-sharing. I see children with mild to extreme issues; some parents just wanting to know that they are on the right track, to some children waking every 40 minutes throughout the night!
What has changed in the industry (e.g trends, research, products) since you started your business – for better? Or worse?
Here in Ireland, when I first started practising, there was only a handful of people offering some sort of sleep help. Now, I do think that there are more resources based here, and a more professional offering too - and that is great. New research and formal sleep requirements recommendations help, with sleep on the health agenda more, and a recognition of the importance of sleep for both child and parents. Obviously, the negative element of misunderstanding what a sleep professional may do, is this idea of training and and unattended crying, none of which I advocate. I see this as part of my task to education and inform when I have platform of the television or in the media, so that parents understand that there are options, and it (change in sleep habits/patterns) doesn’t have to be stressful or damaging to the family unit.
How have you evolved in your knowledge, and approach to sleep consulting since you first started with your business?
Well, fortunately we are all continually learning; academically and in practise. I am always open to new theories and practises, but definitely have taken anything that I have learned and made it my own. I often use my own family life experiences to ascertain the best way forward, what I could personally commit to as a parent and see through, and I try to never be rigid with my approach. I have learned (and continue to hone) the way to communicate with an individual that balances the instruction element of our job and the emotional piece too.
Most challenging client experience to date?
The most challenging cases are normally the ones with more than just sleep going on; be that digestive issues, undiagnosed medical conditions, or parents with PPD. it can be hard to manage the situation when they are relying on a result from you that will not yield due to these barriers. Over time I have become adept at identifying the issues after their client history review, and being able to put them on notice before they begin, that more may be at play. Often it’s the last thing that parents want to hear, but I share my concerns, and include these in their written plan so that we can refer back to them if the process is not evolving, and I can continue to assess the need to refer out. Here in Ireland, parents often hit brick walls with the medical professionals to get support for reflux or digestive issues. The introduction of a free doctor card for children under 6 years helps too. Prior to this, if I was concerned and wanted a parent to speak with their GP, they had to spend €60 a visit and were more than reluctant to do so, so this has helped a lot! I also feel that I have a good list of resources now too to help send them in the right direction if it is not solely a sleep related issue.
Most rewarding client/professional experience to date?
This would have to be when I have helped someone with special needs. One case stands out for me recently; a five year old partially verbal, ASD boy who had the worst sleeping pattern. He was doing fine, but mum was a wreck, and family until was not doing well. They had been everywhere, and done everything when they arrived at my door. In this instance, I make no promises and explain that it is not my field of expertise, but that I also think that most situations can be improved. And it was; quickly and to the extent that he started sleeping 12+ hours of consolidated sleep overnight, without parental input! His motor skills became enhanced, and he starting speaking in sentences as the sleep improved…and I had helped that happen.
What is one piece of advice you give to all clients, regardless of their circumstances?
It will get better; we will work through this from easy to hard, but we will get there and I will hang in there with you until we do. I always tell the families that it will be hard and challenging, but there is an end date in sight.
What advice would you give your former self, or another consultant starting out in this industry?
You can’t save them all!!! This is what my husband says to me...For some reason, it doesn’t matter how many successful cases you handle, it can be diminished by the “one that got away” or the email that arrives to tell you that they were not happy with a certain aspect of the process or just with me! It can happen, especially, if like me you have a high volume of clients. And boy does it affect me... my mood, and it also makes me second guess myself and my ability. Despite the 1000’s of cases that you solve, it is the one that for whatever reason, you didn’t get there with- that might be someone who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) follow the advice, or the one that you just could not click with. It could also easily be someone who was dogged by sickness for the whole process and cannot see it for what it is. However, if you have given it your best, provided your highest level of service, and delivered in a courteous and professional way, then after that, the responsibility is with the person that is seeking help; it is a collaboration and we must remember that.
How do you want to leave your mark on the industry?
I am only one person, so I do not anticipate to leave mark as such. In my location I would like to ensure that I have a good reputation and that I am a trusted sleep professional. But as a group, WE have the chance to make sure that we are making a mark, solving issues, and supporting parents who would be otherwise unsupported.