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!