Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Ever wondered why your baby's sleep habits are in such disarray? Have you considered your baby's sleep environment?
The sleep environment is one of the most important aspects of achieving great sleep for your baby. When your baby's sleep environment is not conducive for sleep, it largely affects not only their quantity but also their quality of sleep. So let's take a deeper look into understanding what makes a sleep environment conducive to sleep.
When addressing a baby's sleep-related problems, the first thing we need to address in the sleep environment is darkness. Is your baby's room dark enough for both naps and night-time sleep? The one question I always ask my clients is: "Can you read a book in your baby's room without the light on"? If the answer is yes, then the room is not dark enough.
Now, I always have a little giggle about this topic because there is always a massive difference between what a sleep consultant considers a dark room, and what a parent considers a dark room. When working on your little ones' sleep, I always tell my client that they need to aim for an "as dark as possible" room. This means getting those dark, block out blinds, and adjusting it so that there isn't a peep of light shining through!... yep, I am talking pitch black! If this is a struggle for you, at least aim for 80% darkness here.
Now, of course, you probably wondering: "Why on earth does this need to be so dark?" Well, here's why:
Melatonin, which is our body's natural sleep hormone, is mostly secreted by the body in the dark, which helps us to fall asleep and stay asleep. For babies who are under 8 weeks old, their bodies are still running off their maternal melatonin. By the end of the 8 weeks this is depleted, and now their body is responsible for producing its own. When you place a baby in a light room, their bodies don't get a chance to release the natural hormone needed for sleep, so the solution for this is to put them in a dark room.
Contrary to belief, a baby's day/night confusion ends at around 3-4 weeks, so there is no need to worry whether your baby will struggle to understand when it's daytime and when it's night-time, their wonderful circadian rhythm does this for them. When night time draws near, your baby's body begins to secrete a large amount of melatonin, which is responsible for helping them sleep longer at night than during the day. This is where their little brains begin to distinguish between night and day. When we go through those lovely summer months, when the sun is up a lot later than usual, our babies will begin to struggle to settle to sleep when they still have light streaming into their room. So by making their room nice and dark, their body signals the brain to release melatonin so they get sleepy and settle for the night.
Not only is a dark room great for helping the body to produce the necessary hormones, but it is also perfect for eliminating any distraction in the room (especially when you have a beautifully decorated nursery or room), which just draws your baby's attention. The older they get, the more distracted they become, so the darker the room the easier it is to eliminate the distraction.
There are many ways to help create this dark room:
There is the cheap, and very short term solution of using Alfoil on the windows. Just spray some water onto the window before-hand, and place the alfoil on the window and voila, you have a very dark room. This can damage windows long term though, so make sure to only use this as a temporary solution!
Other options include:
A dark sheet or curtain placed over the windows
Use Gro Blinds which are blackout blinds that stick to the windows with suction cups
Use blackout blinds that are permanently installed
Or use Sleepy Sundays which use a material charged with static electricity that stick to the windows
And generally, anything you are willing to use to make the room dark. Get creative!
Whatever option you go for, be sure to remove any bit of light peeping through, because when the sun comes up in the early morning, this will likely wake your little one. This often causes those early morning wake-ups, as even the smallest amount of light can signal the body that it's time to wake... unless you want to start your day at 5 am that is!
2. White Noise
Now that we have a darkroom in place, the next element to consider is white noise. White noise is an brilliant tool to use when you have an incredibly unsettled new-born, to do this crank the noise up, louder than their cry, this helps them to stop, or reduce their crying. Mentally, new-born brains cannot focus on 3 things at once, so they settle down and focus on the noise instead (just remember to turn this down when the crying has stopped).
Why do babies love white noise? Well, this is what they have been used to for the past 9 months, and so this is incredibly comforting for them. Not only does it help new-borns to settle faster, but it also causes their body to trigger their calming reflex, which helps settle their sympathetic nervous system. White noise is not only for younger babies though, but this can also be used right up until 12 months old and beyond if you choose to do so.
White noise has the following benefits:
It helps block internal and external noises around the house that may wake your baby.
May help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep longer
Encourages deep sleep
There are many sound machines on the market that you can use, options include:
Aroma Snooze which includes a humidifier and pink light which is perfect for night feeds
Glow Dreaming which includes a humidifier, pink and green light and uses pink noise instead of white noise
If you not looking for anything fancy then the LectroFan is for you
It's always a good option to have a portable sound machine for when you out and about try the Rohm for true convenience
Just remember the following when purchasing a machine:
Static like white noise is better than natural sounds like a heartbeat or ocean waves
Noise can come in different frequencies like white noise/pink noise. Either one is fine to use
For children under 2 years, it is not recommended to use the night light on the machine, as this may become a distraction
Use white noise for the duration of naps and night-time sleep
Place the sound machine about 4 feet away from the cot and not inside the cot
Ensure that the sound machine is not too loud unless trying to settle a new-borns cry, but always turn this down once they have settled
3. Swaddle/Sleep Sack
Last but not least, the swaddle/sleep sack. This is an essential part of the sleep environment. Safe swaddling is a wonderful way to help your new-born baby to settle for sleep. By using a good, safe swaddle, your baby's calming reflex is triggered, as their Moro reflex is inhibited which stops them from waking themselves up each time they startle themselves. The swaddle is also a great comfort tool for your new-born, as they feel as snug and wrapped up as they did in the womb. Ensure to follow safe swaddling practices as those found in the RedNose Safe Swaddling Guide
My recommendations of swaddles or sleep sacks:
Nested Bean offers a both the swaddle and sleep sack with a built in light weight for extra comfort
Miracle Blanket is an excellent swaddle especially for those Houdini babies
Or if you looking for something that is beautifully designed you will want to look at SnuggleHunnyKids
Benefits of a swaddle:
Swaddled babies may sleep longer
Swaddled babies experience less anxiety
Prevents unnecessary wake-ups
Swaddled babies experience 28% less crying
A firm arm's down swaddle is always recommend for babies under the age of 8 weeks, after that parents can choose to use arms up swaddle if they wish. Swaddling is recommended until at least 16 weeks of age but must be transitioned to a safe sleeping sack by 6 months, or at the first signs that they want to start rolling, whichever comes first.
For babies who are no longer swaddled, a sleep sack is a great and safe alternative to use instead of blankets. Blankets pose a SIDS risk for babies under 12 months of age, but they are not recommended until about 3 years of age, because they kick them off at night and then wake due to feeling cold. Sleep sacks are a wonderful sleep association that forms part of the sleep environment and cues their little bodies that it is time for sleep.
4. Room Temperature
Last but not least we need to look at the room temperature, a room that is too hot or too cold will disrupt your little ones sleep, an ideal room temperature is between 18-22 degrees Celsius. between 3-5am is the coldest part of the morning so you will want to dress your baby according to the room temperature at the start of the night. When using a swaddle or sleep sack be sure to use the correct tog for the room temperature as to ensure your baby is warm throughout the night.
So, there you have it! All the tips and tricks you need to create a room that is conducive to sleep for your little one. Now, go on, you have some room decorating to do, and if you ever need some help with your little ones' sleep, book a call and I will be more then happy to help!
Love and Sleepy Hugs