Some babies are born good sleepers (consider yourself fortunate if this is your child!) but for most of us, this is not the case. Creating a sleep-friendly environment is a great way to help him become a better sleeper. Let’s take a look at what makes an ideal sleep environment:
Take a good look at your child’s room during morning wake up, nap time and nighttime. Is there a streetlight that shines in and keeps the room bright at night? Does sunlight pour in first thing in the morning? Is there a bank of windows that keep the room bright during naps? Most babies sleep best in a dark room because light suppresses melatonin production and throws off baby’s inner clock. Melatonin is the hormone that helps baby become sleepy at bedtime. It is your friend and you don’t want to suppress its production.
If you use a nightlight, opt for a yellow, red, or amber bulb as these color lights will not suppress melatonin the same way a traditional white/blue light does. Many parents worry that their child will be afraid of the dark and thus avoid creating a dark room. However, many babies find it much easier to sleep in the dark than they do in a lighted room. Remember, they spent 9 months in a cozy, dark environment! If a toddler or preschooler does develop a fear of the dark, it is something that can be dealt with at that time. Creating a dark room for a baby will not cause a fear of the dark when he gets older.
If baby is rising with the sun, consider adding blackout or light dampening shades; the same goes for naps if baby is having difficulty napping. It is commonly recommended that babies have a very dark environment for each sleep period – even for napping. Personally, I recommend a very dark room for naps only if your child has difficulty napping. I am of the belief that if a baby is able to nap in a dimly lit room (think blinds closed and a cloudy day type of light) that this will help baby be able to nap better when away from his normal environment.
However, for children who have chronic trouble with naps, creating a very dark room can make a world of difference.
Many babies, particularly those who are very alert and curious, find it difficult to sleep in a bright room because they are overstimulated by all the things they can see – the shadows from trees on the wall, the paint color on the wall, the rocking chair in the corner, the texture of the wicker toy basket, etc. Darkness removes these visual stimuli and makes it much easier for baby to wind down and sleep.
Does baby always wake when the garbage truck or school bus drives by? What about when your dog barks? Or big sister runs down the hall? Consider a white noise machine or fan to help drown out the noise. Remember, baby spent 9 months in a very noisy womb. Silence is foreign and unfamiliar to baby. Also, using the same white noise during each sleep period serves as a sleep cue that signals baby it is time to sleep.
I advise using something small and portable so you can easily take it along when you travel. I also advise using a white noise machine with a battery back up, unless you look forward to the occasional power outage at 2:00 am that causes baby’s white noise machine to shut off thus waking him up.
The white noise should be as loud as the water from someone taking a shower in the same room, no greater than 50-60 decibels. Also, it is best to have continuous noise. Avoid using anything that is on a timer because you want the noise to play the entire time baby should be asleep. Otherwise, your child will be likely to wake up after his next sleep cycle because his brain will realize the noise has stopped. A plain white noise type of noise is preferred over rain, crickets, ocean etc as those have rising and falling notes instead of one steady sound.
Make sure baby’s room is neither too hot nor too cold. An often recommended room temperature is 68-72 F (19-21 C) however the American Academy of Pediatrics makes no official temperature recommendation. Also, make sure that baby is dressed comfortably, a general rule of thumb is no more than 1 layer more than you are wearing. It is important to avoid overdressing baby as this increases baby’s risk of overheating (a baby’s risk of SIDS increases if they are overly warm). Make sure that baby is not sweaty and that baby’s chest is not hot to the touch. A fan is helpful to circulate air and keep the room cool and comfortable.
Keep darkness, white noise, and temperature in mind and you’ll have a sleep-friendly room in no time. For all children, but especially infants, it is important to also make sure their room is a safe sleep environment. Safe and sleep-friendly is a winning combination!