When it comes to establishing healthy sleep habits, there are a few pieces of a puzzle to put together: an age appropriate sleep schedule, independent sleep with a lack of needing help to fall asleep and a safe and sleep conducive sleep environment. But what does an ideal sleep environment look like? A bit of the answer is age dependent but some of it will stand the test of time. I will break it down for you:
A Dark Room
Yes it is possible for our kids to sleep in places where light is shining in, but they will get more restful and restorative sleep if the room is dark. It is also easier for our kids to fall asleep in a dark room. This is because melatonin (our natural sleep hormone) is naturally produced when we go into a dark space.
Blackout curtains and blinds can be a great solution for creating the dark sleep environment that we are looking for. You can even temporarily put up a cardboard box (cut to the size of the window) or black garbage bags and tape into your child’s window while you search out blackout curtains or blinds that you might prefer.
You might even consider dimming the lights during your bedtime routine ahead of walking into the room for the routine. A recent study, discussed here in a NY Times article mentioned “even a short exposure of bright light may suppress melatonin and shut down that sleep-promoting effect.” With that in mind, if your child is prone to coming out of their room, you may also dim lights outside of their room to avoid the suppression of melatonin.
I am also often asked about night lights. A night light is ok. There are certain things I would look for in a night light that has a yellow hue and is very dim. Avoiding LED white light is a good idea.
A Cool Room
While keeping our babies cool is something that we need to do for safety, it is still important that even our older kids sleep in a cooler room. A sleep temperature of 68 – 72 degrees is recommended (and very important for babies under 12 months of age). This is because babies cannot regulate their body temperature as well as older children or adults. A cooler room helps to reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
When thinking about an older child a cooler temperature is still important, but less vital. Though, do remember that more restorative sleep will happen in a cool room. Have you ever tried to sleep in a room that is hot? It is harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Our sleep is interrupted when we are too warm.
In some areas (like in the southern parts of the United States), it can be harder in the warmer months to achieve that temperature. A few quick tips: draw the blackout curtains (use thermal ones if you can) earlier in the day, make use of a ceiling fan and start to cool the house down earlier in the day. You can find more tips here.
A Quiet Room
While I think we have all heard that we should get our babies used to sleeping in noise. However, they will get a more restful sleep if they are sleeping in quiet. A white noise machine is great for the purpose of blocking out noise from the rest of the house when our kids are sleeping.
Though, for our babies, we should be cautious of how loud that sound machine is. To help protect our baby’s developing eardrums a safe level is at 60 decibels or less, as registered in their crib. There are free apps out there that can measure the decibel level for you. Also, placing the noise machine away from the crib and closer to the door is a good idea. This will help to block the noise that is coming from outside of the room and will help to keep the white noise at a safe distance from your baby.
Free of Distractions
When our kids are in our rooms and it is bedtime, it is best that they focus on sleep, right? So when considering your child’s sleep environment, you might think about what may be distracting for sleep.
Items like projectors that put stars on the ceiling or aquariums on the side of the crib could get in the way of sleep. For an older child in a toddler / big kid bed, things like toys and books could be very distracting. If you have no other place to put toys, perhaps store them in a closet to be used for playtime (and not for sleep time).
Safe Sleep Environment
I may have mentioned this one before ;). While it is extremely important to be diligent about a safe sleep environment for our babies, it is also important to think about safe sleep for our toddlers and children.
Crib safety is simple and as easy to remember as our ABC’s.:
A – Your baby should sleep alone. Yes, fully and totally alone. For a child under 12 months of age, they should have nothing in their crib but the clothing they are wearing.
B – Your baby should be placed on their back. I know, there will come a point when they roll, sit up and move around, but until they are 12 months old, lay them down on their back.
C – Your baby should be in a crib (crib, bassinet or pack-n-play). This bed should have a firm mattress and a tightly fitted sheet.
You can also find more recommendations on safe sleep, on the AAP website.
For toddlers and children:
If your toddler is still in a crib, you’ll want to ensure that their crib is at the lowest setting. One way to help prevent them from climbing out of the crib is to ensure that they are in a sleep sack (yup, it’s for toddlers too).
If your child is in a big kid bed, you will want to think about their room and the safety of their room. Think about the dresser, is it secured to the wall? How about those electrical plugs, are there safety plugs installed? What can they pull down? What can they climb on? Especially at the beginning of moving to move to a big kid bed, the more bare the room is, the better.
I hope that these tips help. Please though remember that sleep is like a puzzle. It important to fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together to ensure that healthy sleep comes together. If you continue to struggle, the team at Good Night Sleep Site is always here to help and support you.
Certified Sleep Consultant
Good Night Sleep Site Florida