When sleep coach Kim West LCSW-C, was pregnant with her first child, her mind was focused on strollers, bottles, cribs, diapers, and giving birth to a healthy baby.
Sleep training was the last thing on her radar.
Shortly before West’s first daughter was born in the 1990s, she visited her brother, his wife, and new baby. It was then West suddenly realized sleep was far more complicated than she ever imagined.
“My brother and sister-in-law were a wreck, and I didn’t understand. They were saying things like how they couldn’t function. How they were waking up multiple times a night, and how they had tried sleep training a million times,” West recalls. “I panicked and didn’t know getting your baby to sleep could be such a problem.”
Upon returning from her visit, West, a family therapist, dove into the topic of sleep training to learn everything she could.
At the time, the famous approach called cry-it-out was the key to sleep training. But that method, known as gradual extinction or the Ferber Method, wasn’t West’s style.
After her first child was born, West struggled with breastfeeding. Her second daughter experienced silent reflux, a condition that causes discomfort. Both scenarios caused sleep challenges for West’s daughters.
Still, West bucked conventional wisdom and gently helped her daughters get to sleep.
“I decided I was going to listen to my intuition and what I knew about babies, families, attachment, and development,” says West, who earned her master’s degree in family systems and child development. “I was going to ask questions and follow my child and provide her with some direction from me.”
Eventually, West helped friends and friends of friends for free over several years to fine-tune her process and work through various scenarios. Her approach, which ultimately became known as the Sleep Lady Shuffle, would help more than a million parents worldwide.
Learning to Sleep
While the need for sleep is biological, West explains that parents often forget that sleep is a learned skill.
The Sleep Lady Shuffle is West’s method for sleep-coaching babies ages six months and older. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach but rather a guide to help parents work through step-by-step changes in bedtime, napping, and overnight routines that haven’t been working.
West describes the approach as gentle and family-centric, allowing parents to consider their values, lifestyles, philosophies, goals, and temperaments. The Sleep Lady Shuffle encourages responsive parenting as it’s centered on finding a balance between what parents can instinctually teach their child and what the child is innately capable of doing, she says.
“With the Sleep Lady Shuffle, the idea is that you intermittently provide reassurance to your baby and slowly move away,” she says. “I think what every parent needs to do is figure out how to match their parental philosophy, their temperament, and their child’s temperament, with what they can follow through on consistently.”
Read the Sleep Lady's best tips on how to get a good night's sleep during pregnancy.
West is the author of multiple books, including The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle, Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well Without Leaving Them to Cry It Out (its third edition came out in 2020). West, who has trained more than 300 sleep coaches to offer The Sleep Lady Shuffle consulting worldwide, is now working on a new sleep book for parents of babies under six months old.
While West’s two daughters are now grown, she still finds fulfilment in helping other parents.
“I want parents to have an option. It shouldn’t be cry-it-out or suffer for months or years,” West says. “I feel so blessed helping parents. People say to me, ‘you transformed our lives,’ or ‘you saved our marriage’ or “we never thought we would have a second child.’ I find that so rewarding.”
Read Kim West's best tips on how to get a good night's sleep during pregnancy.