Wouldn’t it be nice if sleep was as easy as 5 simple steps? Well, unfortunately it isn’t, but having the foundations is a great place to start! I have been mom-ing for 6 years now, and for sure the very hardest part for me, has been sleep, lack of it, and bending over backwards trying to figure out how to get more! I guess this applies to other aspects of my life, but when I feel like I’m struggling, I tend to want to dive right in and soak up as much education as I can. Ultimately this has what peaked my interest in sleep consulting, and throughout this journey and with the families I have helped, I have come up with my top 5 tips that help families get some sleep!
- Sleep Environment
Sleep environment can play such a big role in sleep maintenance. Ideally you want the sleep environment to be consistent, whatever that looks like for your family (crib, bassinet, bed sharing) and of course the utmost important is the safety of the sleep space.
Around the age of 12-16 weeks babies start producing their own melatonin. A pitch black or very dark room will help encourage melatonin production, thus promoting sleep maintenance. Room temperature also helps encourage sleep, in adults as well as babies. Ideally 18-22 Celsius (64-72 Fahrenheit). Of course minimizing distractions, noises that can wake baby during nap or bed time. A white noise machine is very helpful at drowning out loud or sudden noises that can disrupt sleep, such as traffic or other family members, and pets!
Babies and toddlers thrive on routine As Dr. Stuart Shanker says:
“…what is happening in the first year of life is that the baby is starting to form patterns. This is what our brains are designed to do. Our brains are designed to form patterns around us, and we’re really good at finding them…When it (the brain) sees a pattern, the baby can anticipate what’s about to happen. Why is this so important? Because what it does is dramatically reduce stress. If a baby knows what’s about to happen, the baby won’t be scared or startled… If the baby has no idea what’s about to happen, then what we find is heightened stress reactivity.”
As a busy mama of three, I can appreciate that getting on a schedule can be a HUGE undertaking! But I have found out first hand that my family flows better when we all know what is coming next from meals to rest and times for play. Falling into a routine allows for everyone to feel more relaxed and prepared for times of rest, ultimately leading to less resistance to sleep!
- Fresh Air
Fresh air, every day! I can’t stress this enough, and might be one of the most important parts of sleep! Everyone feels better when they get some fresh air, going for a walk, playing at the park, even in the dead of winter, when everyone has a cold, the fresh air helps. Moving our bodies, getting some vitamin D and spending time with nature is so grounding, and helps our bodies unwind. I love how I connect with my little ones when we are outside, I love the conversations we have when we are going for walks. I think it is a healthy release of stress for all of us, my oldest communicates all of her thoughts for the day after school when we go for a walk, and the intentional quality time spent is so important for connecting (also so important for sleep). Moral of the story, move your body and get some fresh air, you won’t regret it!
- Wake windows
I’m not one to base my sleep advice solely on sleep science, but wake windows do really matter. I’m not saying to constantly watch the clock, but it does help to be aware of time, and following the cues your little one is giving you. Just like anything else with parenting, this is always changing. Physical/cognitive developments can either extend or retract wake times, illness, special events, so many factors to consider with wake windows. As mama, you know your little one best and what the optimal wake time is, and what their unique tired cues are. It really does help to tune into those as you go through your day!
- Don’t overthink it!!
Nothing makes a child less drowsy than knowing their mama is stressing about sleep, I know this from experience! Children co-regulate through our emotions, so if we are feeling anxious about sleep, you can be sure that they are feeling it too. When you are trying to work on sleep solutions, stay consistent, ask for professional advice, but also trust the process and don’t give up. Making changes to routine, for anyone, can take up 14 days. Don’t expect things to happen overnight, and be wary of sleep plans that promise changes in just a few days, humans just don’t adapt to change that quickly! If nap time isn’t going as planned, take a deep breath, get outside, and try again later!