The Wall Streeter Turned Sleep Whisperer - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because you've got to sleep well to have a long life.

Seated in the foyer of a bustling shopping mall in Norwalk, Connecticut, Ingrid Prueher doesn’t see the tantrum being thrown behind her. Oh, but she hears it — the toddler wailing, the father desperately trying to scrape his shrieking scion off the floor. Prueher doesn’t need to see the debacle to know how to fix it. 

“It’s nap time,” says the certified sleep coach and founder of Ingrid Baby Sleep Whisperer. “Babies might seem very alert, but when their bodies start to shut down there’s no way they can learn when their sleep cycle is off.”

Sure, the beleaguered father probably didn’t need a certified sleep consultant to tell him it was nap time, but Prueher’s expertise runs deeper. Based on a system of extensive data analysis and personalized service plans, the former Wall Street analyst teaches a range of clients — from celebrity athletes to sleepless babies — how to adopt healthy sleep patterns. Prueher recently unveiled the Good Night Buddy, an alarm clock designed to teach children good sleep habits, and the first of what she says will be a line of sleep aid products. 

In this era of performance gurus and productivity analytics, where meditation apps and REM cycle trackers are the primary tools on many a smartwatch, clients are flocking to consultants like Prueher in hopes of eliminating wide-eyed staring contests with the ceiling. According to a 2017 McKinsey report, the sleep health industry — from mattresses and apps to sleep consultants and prescription aids — is estimated to be worth between $30 billion and $40 billion, and growing more than 8 percent a year. An estimated $63 billion in productivity is lost due to sleeplessness annually.

So, what exactly does a sleep coach do? Prueher starts with a strategy she knows well from a past life: spreadsheets. 

“All of our habits and our choices are interconnected,” says Prueher. “I can pinpoint what behaviors are causing sleep gaps, and help deal with those patterns to build better habits.”

Born in Guatemala and raised in New York, Prueher attended St. John’s University, earned a master’s in international affairs from the New School and got her professional start as a research analyst at Standard & Poor’s. She navigated the corporate ladder, becoming a fund analyst at a venture capital firm in Westport, Connecticut. After landing on bed rest for four and a half months during her second pregnancy, in 2009, Prueher realized that a change was in order. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I was tired of laying around watching TV all day and wanted to try something else,” she says. 

Luckily, Prueher had a friend and mentor, Deborah Pedrick, who was already working as a sleep consultant and needed help. (In 2012, Pedrick would found the Family Sleep Institute, which instructs, mentors and certifies child-sleep consultants.) With one toddler, Leonardo, growing fast and a newborn, Maximo, having trouble sleeping for more than a few hours at a time, Prueher became consumed with learning how to combat child sleep deprivation and committed to helping other parents like her. After receiving early certifications in newborn communication and child sleep behavior, Prueher launched Ingrid Baby Sleep Whisperer with a focus on nutrition and holistic wellness. 

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That means learning exactly how clients — and their babies — live life. Prueher has clients map out their or their child’s “sleep story” (i.e., what a typical day, night and week look like). Clients then fill out a 30-question form and spend, at minimum, two days logging everything from sleep times, weight gains, mood changes, meals and bowel movements. If a mother breastfeeds, that data is also important. Naturally, it’s easier to locate a problem and change a habit with infants than with older children and adults. “Once a child reaches elementary school, there’s more data to consider, as far as what impacts sleep deprivation,” Prueher says. “Things like family dynamics, school life, learning developmental issues all come into play.”

Katie Schnipper’s young son would wake up frequently at night and invade his parents’ bed early in the morning. “When I tried to let him cry it out, he would become hysterical and throw up,” Schnipper says. She called Prueher, and now her son sleeps through the night on his own. “Working with Ingrid has been the best decision my husband and I have made since our son was born,” Schnipper says.

In addition to making a name as a baby whisperer locally, Prueher is a go-to sleep expert for Fox News and Amazon Live’s Sleep Hub and hosts her own reality web series, Baby Sleep 911, on parents.com. She works with clients, from babies to older adults to professional athletes like former NBA star Emeka Okafor, both in-home and via virtual consultation.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults need anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night, with a consistent bedtime. But in this 24/7 world, such regimented schedules can be difficult for a busy professional — and/or parent — to maintain. That’s doubly so for shift workers, laborers and athletes who exert themselves physically while working erratic hours. Last fall, ESPN published an investigation on the NBA’s “dirty little secret” of sleep deprivation. Experts suggest that due to frequent trips across time zones, late tipoffs and constant travel, sleep deprivation is leading to poor performance, injury, mood changes and even shortened life expectancy for NBA players.

“It’s a major issue for the league,” says former NBA point guard José Caldéron, who now works for the National Basketball Players Association. Caldéron, who emigrated from Spain in 2005, found out the hard way. “That was one thing I didn’t expect, the lack of sleep. With so much travel and so many games, you have to be very regimented,” he says.

Thanks to people like Ariana Huffington (author of The Sleep Revolution) and Matthew Walker (Why We Sleep), sleep consciousness is taking hold, no matter the propaganda that a queue of over-caffeinated Silicon Valley micro-nappers will try to sell you. If sleep nirvana is what you’re after, Pruehler hopes her budding business lines bring bedtime liberation.

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