Sleeping in on the weekends and needing to set an alarm during the week are small sleep luxuries that we seem to take for granted prior to having a child. Once you have a little one, sleep becomes an important topic in your everyday conversation. Not only is sleep a biological necessity for us adults, but it’s also crucial for a developing baby or toddler.
If your little one has been struggling with sleep, you might find yourself at 3 a.m. scouring the internet out of desperation to find a solution. Upon reading, you become overwhelmed by the amount of information out there and are not sure what will help your child. Let me help you simplify the world of pediatric sleep by viewing it as a puzzle. When all of the necessary puzzle pieces are put into place, your little one is more likely to develop a great sleep foundation. Here are the six components of that pediatric sleep puzzle.
1. Sleep Environment
The first piece to consider is your little one’s sleep environment. By creating an optimal sleep environment, you will be promoting healthy sleep habits for your child.
Babies and toddlers alike prefer to sleep in a cool space; the ideal temperature is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. If your baby is too hot, they will have a harder time settling into sleep and staying asleep.
It is important to consider the level of sound in and around your little one’s room. It is helpful to use a white noise machine, such as the Hatch Baby Rest. This will not only block out household noise but also mimic the sounds of the womb and serve as a sleep cue for your little one. When considering the volume of a sound machine, it is important to ensure it is not too loud; 50-55 decibels maximum.
Darker the Better
Sleeping in a dark space for both naps and nighttime sleep is important. The dark environment will help your child connect sleep cycles and produce melatonin, the sleepy hormone. I highly recommend the use of blackout curtains. A good rule of thumb to know if your little one’s sleep space is dark enough is by holding your hand about a foot and a half out from your face. If you can clearly see your hand, I would work towards making the room darker.
2. Bedtime Routine
A predictable bedtime routine will help your child transition from the day’s busy activities to the time of rest. It is important that the routine is consistent and should take about 30-45 minutes. An example of a bedtime routine includes bath, pajamas, feeding, one or two books, turning off the lights, turning on the sound machine, and singing a goodnight song. It is also helpful to use a condensed version of this bedtime routine prior to your little one’s nap during the day.
3. Sleep Schedule
From birth to 4 months old, it is essential to follow appropriate awake windows for your baby’s sleep. This will prevent your newborn from becoming overtired and will lead to the most restorative sleep.
Once your little one is 5+ months old, it is helpful to navigate to a clock-based schedule where they are napping and going to bed at the same time each day when their body is primed for sleep. This will allow you to catch what are called “sleep waves.” A sleep wave is the opportune time for a nap or bedtime, when your little one’s sleep pressure, or drive to sleep, is at its highest. If you are wondering what schedule is appropriate for your baby or toddler, I break down schedules by age group on my Instagram here.
4. Sleep Associations
Do you sleep best with a certain blanket or pillow? This is a sleep association and babies and toddlers do well with them as well! A sleep association is any action or object that when performed or present helps your little one fall asleep. If your goal is to have your baby/toddler falling asleep independently at the onset of bedtime and during any short night waking, it is helpful to use a sleep association that they are able to recreate or use on their own.
Some examples of independent sleep associations include sleep sack/swaddle, lovey/blanket (per safe sleep guidelines, a small blanket/lovey should not be used prior to 12 months old), white noise, pacifier, and being in their own crib or bed.
5. Consistent Response
If you are working on improving your baby or toddler’s sleep and want to be successful, consistency is truly key. A response method is the way in which you check-in or console your baby/toddler when they are falling asleep. There are a multitude of ways to respond, depending upon your little one’s personality and what is happening with sleep, but what is most important is staying consistent with the method you choose. Some examples of methods include parental fade, interval check-ins, a soothing ladder, or giving your little one space to fall asleep independently. When I work with families, I explain the importance of first outlining their sleep goals and understanding which method would work best for their specific child.
It is important to remember that setting a good sleep foundation comes with practice. Like riding a bike, walking alongside your little one while their sleep progresses is important. If your newborn does not like to be swaddled at first, keep practicing. If your toddler is getting out of their bed every night, continue to practice walking them back to their bed. By remaining confident and reassuring them they can do it through practice, the skills will be developed. Happy sleeping!