1. Turn Up the Quiet
Babies have just come from an incredibly loud womb. If you want to set your baby up for the best sleep possible, use white noise. Not all white noise is created equal. Some machines and apps can have a mechanical-like sounds, which can be jarring and grating and the opposite of soothing for baby. The trick is to avoid white noise that is recorded, like your smart phone apps, YouTube videos and music tracks, and some white noise machines (while the serve a good purpose in spas, I’m not a fan of HoMedics for babies, for instance) and opt for machines that create real white noise with air. Most simply, a box or tower fan can serve this purpose well. My other favorite is the Marpac Dohm.
Note: be sure white noise is turned on prior to bringing your baby into his/her room for bedtime. Additionally, choose white noise that is a safe decibel level for baby. I like the Marpac Dohm because it’s in that sweet spot – neither too soft nor too loud, ranging between 50-70 dB.
2. Keep It Dark
Light—and the lack of—play a critical role in regulating our biological clocks. The pineal gland needs darkness to produce melatonin, a serotonin derived hormone that controls sleep patterns. Both natural light, as well as artificial light, disrupt the production of melatonin. This is a good thing during the day when you should be awake. But at nighttime, it’s a good idea to make sure your baby has a dark environment for sleep. Blackout curtains or heavy drapes are ideal for bedroom windows. This will help block out light at nap and bedtime and can be drawn in the morning or after nap for a dramatic wake-up to help baby understand the difference between wake and sleep times.
It’s also a good idea to avoid nightlights in children’s rooms. If a child is used to sleeping in the dark from the onset, he/she is less likely to have a comfort need for a nightlight later in life.
Lastly, but maybe most importantly, it’s advisable to stay away from blue light leading up to or at bedtime. Scientists suggest that “blue light,” or blue-wavelength light, suppresses melatonin production for up to two-times as long as other light wavelengths. That’s why it’s a good idea to steer-clear of televisions, and especially smart phones and tablets, for at least an hour prior to bedtime. Researchers also found blue light prevented body temperature from dropping during the night, which leads us to the next tip.
3. Cool is the Rule
Over a 24 hour period, our body temperatures naturally peak and decline. Our internal temperature is usually at its highest in the early afternoon and lowest around 5:00am. When we fall asleep, our bodies naturally cool off. Helping baby’s body get to that lower temperature faster can encourage deeper sleep. It can also help baby fall asleep quicker. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 68° to 72°F.
4. Let the Sun Shine In
As important as dark is a night — light is in day. Lots of natural sunlight through the day helps your child’s body (and yours too!) make melatonin more freely and quickly when nightfall hits. So stroll around the block and get out for some fresh air and natural light.
5. Early to Bed
Sometimes parents are afraid to put their baby to bed too early, assuming that early to bed will result in an earlier wake time. But keeping your child up late usually has unintended consequences. Generally, an overtired baby will have more restless nighttime sleep, possibly waking several times throughout the night resulting in an early morning awakening. Of course bedtimes very depending on age and the child, but generally speaking a good bedtime for kids ages four months to three years of age falls somewhere between 6:00pm and 8:00pm. Note that younger babies will fall on the later end of that range while they are still on three naps per day. Once your child drops to two naps, likely around 10 months, a 6:00pm or 6:30pm bedtime is not unreasonably early. If you’re facing sleep challenges with your child, looking to an earlier bedtime is the most likely fix, so in your toolbox of trial and error, this should be your first move.
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