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Eczema and sleep: A parent’s (eventual) success story

Here at ScratchSleeves we love collaborating to bring you the experience and expertise of professionals and parents. This time we have teamed up with early years professional, sleep consultant and eczema mum, Kirsty Irving. We can’t think of a better person to be sharing top tips on helping an eczema child to sleep. Not only does Kirsty have eczema herself, so do her two children, Emily (7) and William (2). It was Emily’s struggles with itch-disturbed sleep that motivated Kirsty to train as a sleep consultant. This is the story of Kirsty and Emily’s journey to better sleep for the entire family.

Kirsty’s own eczema story

I have had eczema for as long as I can remember. One of my most vivid memories as a child is waking up during the night, covered in blood from scratching. If only ScratchSleeves were available back then! Eczema runs in my family, so it was no surprise when my children developed it as babies. Having an appreciation of how itchy eczema can be, it has always been important to me to set my children up in a healthy way, by maintaining symptoms and making them as comfortable as possible.

When Emily was not even one, she scratched so much that her eyes would roll back with relief of the itch. But this was just doing more damage. I had to bathe her in her swimming costume so she could play without scratching, then take it off to give her a quick wash before getting her out of the bath. Having worked in Early Years, I remember seeing ScratchSleeves for the first time and thinking ‘this is a genius invention’. When Emily started scratching, I quickly bought some for her.

Emily’s challenges with itchy eczema and sleep…

Itchy eczema was one of the biggest causes of Emily’s sleep challenges. The itching really bothered her, making it difficult for her to get to sleep and waking her up whenever she came to the top of a sleep cycle. By the time she was 4, she would be up and about 5-10 times a night shouting “I’m itchy”. Every time, we would smooth on more of her cream and get her back into bed. We were all exhausted. Even though we saw a private dermatologist and she was prescribed sedative medication by the GP, we only saw a small improvement in her sleep. She was 5 years old when I started my sleep training course. It was then that it dawned on me that, if I woke up in the night, I would probably ask for a quick, comforting massage to help me get back to sleep too.

…and how we helped her to sleep through the itch

As with all the families I work with, we had to address Emily’s sleep challenges from a number of quite different angles with much of the work occurring during the day. This is what worked for us.

  • Reward charts
    We used an open-ended reward chart which was specific to sleep. What is important with this chart is that there’s no empty sections. This avoids any negative feelings at bedtime, and the quantity of stars doesn’t have to be the same each time. (You can contact Kirsty for more information on this here)
  • Positive language
    We used positive language to ensure that everything about going to bed was said in a positive way. “You get to go to bed” sounds much more inviting than “you’ve got to go to bed”. When I’m working with families that have children this age, we write down some of the key phrases that they use and twist them to be more positive. (Every family is different)
  • Minimal stimulation after lights out
    Emily is extremely sensitive to touch so, not surprisingly, it wakes her which making it more difficult for her to fall back to sleep. Unfortunately, her Daddy works a lot of hours and ‘Dad guilt’ would cause him to pick her up and give her a cuddle whenever she woke up and wandered. While this was completely understandable, it both woke her up more and gave her a really good reason to want to get up in the first place. Now, we ensure that they have time together every morning.
  • Bedtime routine.
    A precise routine before bed. So our actions are dependable and predictable. This gives her a real sense of security.
  • Affirmation.
    Emily is quite an anxious little girl. We use emotional conversation to get her worries out into the open and remind her of all the positive things that have happened. Every evening we ask her what she would like to tell us about? Originally we asked ‘What are you worried about?’. Then I realised that by using the word worry, we were telling her that we expected her to be worried every day.👎🏼 What are you proud of? What could you dream about? Unicorns mostly.
  • Night-time cuddles.
    Before we turn the light out, we have a 20 second cuddle with clear boundaries of the next cuddle being in the morning. If Emily seems particularly emotional on a given day, I ensure that we have extra cuddles before the bedtime routine. I also tell her that I had loaded up her blanket with extra cuddles to last her through the night.
  • Teaching independence.
    We also involved her more in managing her eczema during the day, teaching her how to apply her own creams. In time she was able to apply her own cream when she woke up in the night. As a reward, she would get a mummy massage once a week as a treat for being grown up. By empowering her to self-care and allowing special time in the day made such a difference to her and with more sleep, her anxiety was far less life hindering.
  • Breathing techniques
    As she has grown up we have taught her breathing techniques to help her focus on something other than the itch. You can see her demonstrating some of these on my TikTok channel here.

An itchy little brother arrives

Emily’s little brother William arrived just as we were starting to get to grips with Emily’s eczema. While he also suffers from eczema, his sleep hasn’t (so far) been nearly as problematic. With everything that I’ve learnt from my sleep consultancy training I know to watch for overtiredness creeping in, especially around a growth spurt and development leaps and we have been setting clear boundaries right from the start. I have also been more conscious of meeting, not exceeding his needs when he does wake in the night. For example, if his skin needs more cream I apply it, but I don’t make eye contact and say as little as possible. I keep the lights as dim as possible and don’t linger in his room.


If you want more details of my work as a sleep consultant head over to my website where you’ll find contact details, links to my social media channels and more tips on helping children to develop good sleep habits.


As well as sharing our experience of bringing up an eczema child (and favourite allergy-friendly recipes), we also manufacture and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-adult years in a range of colours and designs. Visit our webshop for more information.

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Written by:

Kirsty is an early years professional, sleep consultant and eczema mum. Not only does Kirsty have eczema herself, so do her two children, Emily and William. It was Emily’s struggles with itch-disturbed sleep that motivated Kirsty to train as a sleep consultant.

Reviewed by:

Coming from a family of eczema sufferers, Jae draws on years of practical, first hand experience living with eczema.

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