I have a friend who once fell asleep in the middle of a crowded parking lot during a multi-band concert using his best friend’s shoe as a pillow. As for me, I often need to wear a sleep mask, be in my own bed, and sometimes even have a fan or white noise machine going in the background. If my husband is working late at the hospital my chances of falling asleep before 1am seem to be about 50/50. Babies are the same- some babies seem to be able to fall asleep anytime and any place, while others always seem to struggle.
If you are trying to improve your baby’s sleep, one of the first things you can do is optimize your baby’s sleep environment. Below are some practical suggestions you can do to support your child in getting the sleep they need.
- BE CONSISTENT. Around 4 months of age, your baby’s brain will be able to start developing an association between their sleep space and sleeping. You can cash in on this natural development by being sure naps and nighttime sleep all occur in your child’s sleep environment. This will strengthen that association in your child’s brain and help cue their body to sleep when they hit the sack.
- DARKNESS. Darkness cues the brain to produce melatonin, a hormone which helps you to fall asleep. Blackout curtains are a must if your child’s room receives bright sunlight during the day for naps, the evening at bedtime, or the morning before they wake up. Sometimes it can also be helpful to pin additional towels or blankets around the window casing to make sure no light sneaks through the cracks. You may also consider placing a towel under the crack of the door if the room is properly ventilated. Check for electronic displays, such as an LED clock or a green ‘on’ indicator on a device. If you are concerned about your child being afraid of the dark, red night lights have been proven to have the smallest impact on sleep.
- WHITE NOISE. A white noise machine can be a powerful tool to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep. Noises from inside the house and the neighborhood are inevitable, and can be disruptive to some babies’ sleep. Additionally, your baby can form an association between white noise and sleep, which will help cue your baby’s brain at bedtime or nap time. White noise that is between 30-60dcb has been proven to be the most effective for sleep. “Pink noise” or “brown noise” are considered the most helpful types of white noise for sleep. They both have a mid-range, consistent frequency, like a quiet dishwasher or a small fan. Be sure to have your white noise set to play continuously throughout the night and naps and not just when the baby first falls asleep. Read more about white noise here.
- TEMPERATURE. The ideal temperature for sleep is 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re concerned about your baby’s temperature at night, consider purchasing a monitor with a built-in temperature sensor. Sleep sacks are a popular solution for children who cruise around the crib all night or have a tendency to kick off their blankets, and you can find thinner or thicker ones depending on the season. If your baby sleeps curled up in a tight ball, that is a good indication that he may be too cold. If he consistently wakes up covered in sweat, he may be too warm in his sleep space.
If you optimize your baby’s environment for sleep, it will be easier for him to learn how to soothe himself to sleep on his own. You can still expect some protest as he learns this new and tricky skill, but preparing his environment is a powerful way that you can support him through the process. Consistency, darkness, white noise, and temperature are all tools that can make it easier for your baby to develop the sleep skills he needs to get the rest he (and you!) needs.
If you can’t stop worrying about your baby’s temperature or safety in their sleep space, or feel a general sense of apathy or sadness since your baby has been born, please consider bringing it up to your doctor or someone else you can trust to support you. 10-15% of women experience postpartum depression in the first year following the birth of their baby. You don’t have to feel this way, and it’s not your ‘fault’ if you do. Read more about recognizing the signs of postpartum depression here.
Your baby can learn to sleep, and you can help him through the process. Every situation is unique and sometimes it takes a little creativity to carve out the perfect sleep environment for your baby, but you can do it! If you would like to ask a question or even schedule a 15 minute phone call, please don’t hesitate to reach out.