As adults, some of us can sleep sitting up on an airplane with a screaming baby next to us while the flight attendant goes over the safety features of the aircraft. For others, Me, we need the room at just the right temperature, a fan blowing on medium setting and an eye mask on to block out ALL. OF. THE. LIGHT.
Babies and children are no different. They come to learn and need a specific environment to fall asleep and stay asleep. And, it's up to us as parents to provide that every single time.
Before I give my recommendations on the "perfect" sleep environment, here is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for SAFE sleep.
1. Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
2. Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
3. Share a bedroom with parents, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns 1-year old but at least for the first six months.
Studies show room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent. “The AAP recommends room-sharing because it can decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50% and is much safer than bed sharing. In addition, room-sharing will make it easier for you to feed, comfort and watch your baby”
4. Avoid baby's exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs. This is important to remember during pregnancy and postpartum.
Keeping all of this in mind is very important, and always remember your ABC’s of safe sleep. Alone-Back-Crib. Since there is no black and white answer on to how to 100% prevent SIDS, the best thing you can do is follow the safe sleep guidelines from the AAP.
What if your baby likes to sleep on their side? Ensure they have proper head and neck control, and that they can roll back over from their side/tummy to their back unassisted. This is when you will know if your baby is safe to sleep on their stomach. If they can’t, placing them back to a supine (back) position is suggested.
Optimizing Baby’s Sleep Environment to Welcome Sleep
Here are a few sleep expert tips that I recommend when creating an environment that's optimal for quality, sound sleep.
· Keep temperature of the room on the cool side, 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. A good way to tell how hot or cold your baby is running is to check that their hands and feet and nape of their neck feels cool to the touch; not hot or ice cold. Use a sleep sack instead of a blanket if you think your child is cold.
· Make the room extra dark. So dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face! Many curtains and shades are sold as "black out" but this really isn't true. My cheap fix for this is black plastic table cloths, which you can find at the Dollar Store. Layer those over the window with painter’s tape, and then put your curtains and blinds back up to hide it. I even take this "window kit" along while traveling. You better believe my kids still need to nap while on vacation, so if blacking out the windows equals a nap, I'm doing it!
· White noise, white noise, white noise. Did I mention white noise? Why does white noise help babies sleep? Think about the womb-like experience they came from. They spent 9 months listening to our blood rush through our bodies and now the spontaneous, interrupting noises of our world can be overwhelming to a tiny baby. Using white noise will help calm them and allow them to return to sleep during an arousal between sleep cycles. Studies show white noise allows you to spend more time in deep sleep, which is the stage of sleep that supports short- and long-term memories, as well as regenerating cells, muscles, energy and your immune system. Babies and young children need TONS of deep sleep, as this is where development and growth take place. Helping your child optimize deep sleep is also very important when thinking about focus and attention spans throughout the day.
When frantically looking for the right baby lullaby to go to sleep, rest assured that white noise is your best bet! You can even download White noise Apps to your phone and conveniently use while on the go or traveling. PRO TIP: If using a tablet or device, always keep it on airplane mode around your child. Using white noise is a cue to your child that sleep is coming. As a sleep consultant, I encourage creating cues for your children so they can process what to expect and what is coming next in their day.
Not sure how loud it should be? Think about the noise level of a running shower (60-65 decibels). I am sure all of us as Mom’s have tried that trick many times to calm our fussy babies, I know I have. With that same thought, white noise can also be used to calm and soothe your baby during a fussy period or witching hour; recreating that womb-like environment that newborns crave. It’s even okay to increase the volume up to 70 decibels to help deescalate their crying. Once your child has calmed, return the white noise down to an appropriate level. Studies show white noise can be helpful during the 4th trimester and it gets them through restless, colicky periods. If you are unsure of the noise level your machine is putting out, there are free decibel metering Apps available in the App store! For peace of mind, download it to be sure the sound is not at a damaging level.
If you don’t wish to invest in a white noise machine, a box fan can work just as well! Studies also show that keeping a room free of stagnant air is important. When I was young in the 80’s and 90’s, fans and humidifiers were our versions of white noise. I remember the soothing sound of the humidifier to this day!
As kids get older, let them decide if they still want to use their white noise for sleep. Many may find it a positive step in their sleep routine by letting them turn it on themselves. Allowing them to exert their independence and make choices at bedtime is a healthy way to keep the routine short and calm.
Experts at the Study.com website believe that white noise has benefits for children who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Since kids with ADHD are more sensitive to distractions they may experience a negative impact on their school performance, but using white noise may be the key to helping ADHD children learn.
Is white noise a negative sleep association and is it sustainable? A common question I hear is, “Will my baby NEED it to sleep?” No, they won’t stay awake all night if you don’t have it on or available. Maybe you have anxiety about the power going out or the machine breaking in the middle of the night. Will your baby still sleep? YES, they will sleep. I’ve experienced situations where I forgot to turn it on, or I hit the timer button and it turned off after 30 minutes. My child still fell asleep and slept through the night. The studies that have been done on white noise show it encourages babies to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and accumulate more deep sleep.
Space! Give your child the space to fall asleep and put themselves back to sleep. Offering your words and gentle touch can adequately show your child you are there and not abandoning them. Sometimes, accidental parenting gets in the way. If you are room-sharing, remove yourself for a period of time to allow your baby the space and privacy to fall asleep. Because our presence can sometimes be too stimulating, our intentions can create roadblocks and hinder the progress we are trying to make. Of course, that doesn’t mean to ignore your child’s needs: sickness, soiled diaper, hunger, etc. Self-soothing takes place when all your child’s needs are met, and they are practicing falling asleep and self-settling.
Hear a grunt or a sleep cry? Babies and young children are very noisy sleepers. They thrash around, breathe heavily and sometimes moan or whimper in their sleep. Their bodies are resetting and resting to allow them to grow and develop. Take a deep breath and see if your child can resettle themselves during an arousal or sleep cycle transition. Utilize the white noise in these situations and make loud shushing noises. This is the first step into a gentle sleep training method.
As first-time parents, its hard to know what the perfect environment is to help your child sleep. You may buy all the gadgets and read a thousand reviews online in hopes of getting your child to sleep. But keep in mind, there is no miracle mattress or blanket. Following safe sleep guidelines along with implementing routines will be the best way to ensure you have one of those “unicorn baby” good sleepers.
Implementing the environmental suggestions above will help your child be motivated to sleep for nights and naps….Ugh Naps!
Many families struggle with naps; either they are short, or baby outright refuses them until overtired. The brain processes day sleep differently and the drive to sleep is relatively low. So, by making the room completely dark with white noise, we are ensuring outside stimulations are not the source of the nap issue. Plus, staying consistent with your approach and being mindful of your baby’s cues are additional steps to take to be sure you are on the right track. If you have a first-time mom checklist or wishlist, make sure that white noise machine is on it!
In closure, here are ways to use white noise for your baby.
Check that the volume is similar to that of a running shower. Increase the volume temporarily to calm baby during fussy periods. Use it at home and when traveling or on a day trip. If you receive one of those fancy shmancy machines with projections, lights and lullabies… SKIP all of that. Dark, dark room with white noise is what you want. My favorite white noise machine that will take your child through their toddler and even preschool years is this one.
Ways to create white noise.
1. Sound machine set to white noise. (sometimes called tv static or waterfall)
2. Table top or box fan.
4. App on tablet in airplane mode.
Let's face it. You have your rituals and routines to get to sleep..eye mask anyone?
Your baby will need the same to help create a comforting and calm disposition of sleep.
Questions about how to HELP your little one sleep better?
Lindsay Loring is a certified pedatric sleep consultant helping families all over with restful routines for their family.