Becca Campbell is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and the CEO and founder of Little Z’s Sleep (www.littlezsleep.com) and The Sleep Sorority. She has guided tens of thousands of families through the exhausting world of newborn, baby, and toddler sleep and is trusted by pediatric clinics and medical specialists across the country. Becca is also the host of the #3 globally-ranked pediatric podcast, Little Z’s Sleep Podcast, and her expertise has been featured in outlets like Parents magazine, NBC news, and yahoo! Life, and Toddler Purgatory. As a CEO, wife, and mother of two, she understands the importance of restful, restorative sleep, so she’s dedicated to helping families make sleep a thing.
To connect with Becca, head to:
- Her website: https://littlezsleep.com/
- Her podcast: https://littlezsleep.com/podcast/
- Her socials: @littlezsleep
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you came to be an expert in sleep.
My name is Beca Campell but people mostly know me as Little Z’s. Little Z Sleep is our company and I’m and so our podcast is called Little Z Sleep Podcast, which is great because it really encapsulates what we do, we help little kids get to sleep. We focus on ages zero to five years old sleep train.
I have two girls who are now eight years old and six years old, but my eight-year, was not sleeping when she was born, she was cranky and irritable and just screamed all the time. Meanwhile, my breastfeeding journey was horrendous and we had a really difficult labor and delivery.
And so I was disappointed. I was frustrated. I was sleep deprived. And I woke up one morning to Ellie, who was three months old at the time, under my duvet covers, and that was my red light of like, oh my gosh, why is my baby underneath my covers in my bed? Like, something has to change. We got to figure this out. So I just ran to the computer and was like, how do you get a baby to sleep? Because she would never sleep. She was awake for hours on end, and I have a really alert baby. I’ve heard so many moms say that, oh, my baby’s just really alert when in reality they are exhausted and they need to go to sleep.
Then, I discovered that there are sleep consultants; people who can help you get your baby to sleep. So I went down that path because I was so tired, I needed someone to help me. And once she started sleeping 12 hours through the night, within just three nights, I was like, what? This is amazing. I need to tell other people about this. And so then I became a sleep consultant, and that was now seven years ago. So Little Z’s in total, we’ve helped over 15,000 families get the sleep that they need.
Talk to me a little bit about this term of sleep training. Why is it triggering or controversial?
For some reason when we talk about how to sleep well, it brings out everybody’s opinions that are all over the map. Sleep training is teaching your child to sleep, and there are only four methods of sleep training and this is where the confusion comes in.
The first one is the Cry It Out, this is the method where you put your child into their crib, you say goodnight, you walk out the room, you close the door, and you don’t come back for 12 hours so that the child extinct themselves or cries it out until they fall asleep. For some people, that’s exactly what they need and that’s exactly what works for them. The second one is the Ferber method where you come in, check on your baby you leave, and you come in increments to check on them until they fall asleep. The third one is the Camp Out method where you sit in a chair beside your child to help them fall asleep. And then gradually over a few days, you move out of the room and then all the way to the other side. And last, there’s the pickup-putdown method. At Little Z’s we teach stay the Ferber and the Camp Out method.
With sleep training, you’re equipping your child with the skills how to fall asleep independently. Those foundational skills last a lifetime. A lot of parents have told me over the years like, yeah, I never slept well as a kid and they still don’t sleep well as an adult.
And so we’re changing that, that pattern from the beginning. When you teach your child to sleep well, this is a gift that lasts their entire life and I’m really passionate about it. It does not have to be that parenthood equals sleep deprivation. That is not what you signed up for. That is not the reality and I get really frustrated with the Internet and with social media that say it’s evil if you want your child to sleep well or you want a sleep schedule. If you are desperate and you are not happy, healthy, and well-rested, we can help you change that. There are options.
At what age is it appropriate to start these methods? And is there one of the two methods you teach that’s better depending on the age of your kids?
Sleep training can begin at 16 weeks from the due date because that’s when, if you think of the four-month sleep progression, all that is the newborn is no longer a newborn. They now have mature sleep cycles and they are able to independently self-soothe. For babies from four months all the way up until 17 months, I teach the Camp out method and then implement the leave and check method. And for older kids, we equip the parent with some strategies to ensure that kids stay in their bed.
What is sleep regression? Why do they happen? What’s going on with our kids and what do we do? Do we just like wait it out?
There’s really a four-month and eight-month, sometimes 10-month, 12-month, and 18-month regression. And basically, what’s happening are we saying it’s a regression, but it’s just your child’s changing their needs? You can’t just do the same thing for four years. That’s obviously not going to work. So when they are zero to three months old, they have very small wake windows. There’s, they need a lot of help. They need a lot of things. But then their body changes at four months old they go from chaotic sleep cycles and then around 16 weeks from due. They develop mature sleep cycles. They don’t just have two REM and non-REM anymore. They now have more complex, more mature adult sleep cycles where they cycle through different stages of n REM sleep.
So one example of this is when a newborn is sleeping. 50% of their sleep is happening in REM, which is rapid eye movement. That’s when we’re dreaming. Once they hit four months old, it now reduces to about 20% of REM sleep. And again, this is for adults. This is when we are dreaming. And so their sleep cycles change, their sleep needs change and there’s a regression because parents are still applying newborn strategies to a four-month-old baby, which are no longer working.
So regressions are totally normal, but the way to know if it’s a regression or it’s a new habit is that this rough patch lasts for maybe about two weeks, and then it’s over.
I would love your take on what is an effective routine. And then the same question too, like how does that routine need to change as our children grow from newborn to five?
Everybody thrives on a routine. Even if you say like “I don’t like schedules”, if I were to nitpick in your daily life, you have a routine. You have breakfast, you go for a walk, you have lunch, and you take a nap. Like you just, you have routines. Everybody has them, and so, especially children and babies. Thrive on routine because they know what to expect. I would even argue even more so a toddler and a preschooler benefit from routines like the most of everybody because they have no control over anything in their life, but if they know what’s expected of them, they can fall in line with that, there’s actually even freedom within that routine for them to have some choices. An example of that is a bedtime routine for a toddler and a preschooler is either a bath or shower, whatever they do. And then let’s go ahead and do jammies, let’s brush our teeth. And then, even within that, you could say like, do you want your blue striped jammies or do you want your polka dot jammies? Like giving them some choice in there. And then I like to go to their room. You can even play for a few minutes with the child. The bedtime routine for me is not a time where everybody’s got to be super quiet.
If you say that your bedtime routine with your child brings anxiety because you don’t know when they’re going to fall asleep, you just got to be there until it happens, and then you don’t know what’s going to happen throughout the night.
That’s actually not normal. You need to have a normal bedtime routine where you can say; we’re going to have fun. We’re going to enjoy this. I’m going to read a book. We’re going to connect, and then I’m going to give you a kiss. You’re going to get into your bed. I’m going to turn the light off, leave the room, close the door, and you go to sleep within 10 to 15 minutes.
I know for my kids when there’s been a day with extra activities and we’re off our usual “schedule,” my kids can get overtired – resulting in dysregulated emotions and bursts of energy. What can we as moms do to help regulate our kids when they are overtired and need a space of calm and rest?
When they’re overtired what’s really happening is their body is fighting adrenaline throughout the night because they’re overtired. They’re getting restless sleep. And so, what are we going to do tonight? We are going to put her to bed early. This could be 30 minutes early, it could be an hour early. You know, your child best. that is going to be your saving grace for any day that a nap didn’t happen or a nap was short.
You’re gonna put them to bed early. Then the next day, if, especially if you were out and about, you know, let’s say, it’s Thanksgiving day and you don’t have the nap schedule on point. That’s fine. Enjoy your life. That’s kind of the point you get, you have. But when you know that sleep is a thing and you have a system and a schedule and routines in place, you can enjoy an off day knowing it’s cool. Tomorrow, I’m just gonna get back on my nap schedule.
What’s your advice on dealing with nightmares?
What’s happening’s just imagery from the day. And so they’re, they’re, that’s only really happening in the REM sleep, which is typically you’re gonna have these dreams in the late night or early morning. Another reason for it is If I wake up at four and I’m like, gotta go pee, and then I come back to bed, I know I’m gonna have a dream. I know it like in that time, that like one and a half, two-hour time block because you’re having a little bit of lighter sleep and that’s when you’re gonna have a dream.
So imagine that your child is overtired. They’re restless. They’re not getting full-quality restorative sleep. They are restless. They’re having lighter sleep. They’re having more dreams. They’re having more nightmares. Okay? So that’s happening. Um, they’re having imagery throughout the day from maybe whatever they saw.
Also avoiding screens. The best thing that I’m, we do not have it perfect over here in our family, so please no one listens to this, and is like, your kids sleep 11 hours and they don’t watch tv. Um, but I am telling you, cuz I’ve lived it, um, that we took screens out from our life Monday through Thursday. And when we did that, we have completely different children and I think moms know that like, TV creates monsters sometimes, although I use that to my advantage, when I had two under two, there was so much TV going on. And you do that. There are seasons where you’re gonna binge that for your child.
I can tell when they watch too much tv, it directly impacts their nighttime and their attitudes. So if you’re noticing your child is having frequent nightmares, Just turn the TV off. Do not allow them to have that screen time or if anything, at least cut it off two hours before bed.
How do parents start changing what they’re doing with their kid’s sleep routine?
Your first step is to talk to anyone in your family who’s gonna help. You all have to be on the same page. Don’t take parts and pieces of things that you found on the internet or a blog and be like, I think I can just cherry-pick this and put it together. There are professionals for a reason. Trust someone, whether that’s an in-person sleep coach that you wanna work with or an online course like ours that you wanna commit to. You need to find a plan and stick with it. Be consistent.