You don’t need to “sleep train” your child to improve their sleep. Often simple changes to their sleep environment and routine can have a huge impact on their sleeping habits.
1. Sleep Environment
Firstly, optimising your child’s sleep environment is the first and easiest way to improve sleep.
Having a dark sleep environment allows your baby’s body to convert serotonin into the sleep hormone melatonin. Too much light blocks the production of melatonin and signals to your baby’s brain that it is time to be awake.
The room should be an 8-9/10 on the scale of darkness – it should be so dark that you would struggle to see if your baby’s eyes are open or closed from a couple of metres away.
White noise mimics the sounds in the womb and helps babies feel secure and settled.
It acts as a positive sleep association and provides a consistent sleep environment (it should be played continuously for the duration of naps and night sleep).
It blocks out external noises that may disrupt your baby’s sleep (the volume should be as loud as a running shower)
If your baby is too cold or too warm, it can disrupt their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The ideal temperature for your baby’s bedroom is 18-20°c (about 65 – 68°F).
2. Timing of sleep:
Secondly, it’s critical to follow an age-appropriate routine and watch your child’s awake windows to make sure your baby goes to sleep at the right time.
As little as 15-30 minutes can make all the difference between putting your baby to bed under tired versus overtired. If they are under tired, they may resist falling asleep or only sleep for a short period of time. If they are overtired, they will struggle to fall asleep due to elevated cortisol levels and once they are asleep, they may only sleep for a short period before waking up upset.
3. Recognising tired signs:
Thirdly, it’s key to recognise your baby’s tired signs. When a child becomes overtired, their body produces cortisol, which makes it harder for them to fall into a deep sleep and they become much harder to settle.
These are common tired signs:
- eye rubbing
- jerky arms
- distant look
- red appearance on eyebrows
- red under eyes
- ear and hair pulling
- more vocal and chatty
- wants to suck but not hungry
- spitting up more or long after a feed
4. Pre-sleep rituals
Having a consistent wind-down ritual that is repeated before each nap and a more extended version before bedtime is an important step in helping your child sleep well.
It helps your baby slowly relax and calm down and recognise that it is time for sleep. Your baby’s wind-down ritual could be a song or story or just a long cuddle before putting their sleeping bag or swaddle on, and turning on the white noise.
5. Sleep Associations:
Sleep associations are the actions or things that a baby associates with settling to asleep.
There are no good or bad sleep associations. If it works for you and your baby, don’t change it! However, some associations can create difficulties over time. For example, if your baby is used to being rocked or fed to sleep then he will need to be rocked or fed back to sleep if he wakes early from a nap or during the night. This will result in short naps and multiple night waking.
Introducing positive sleep associations can therefore be really helpful. These remain constant and do not need replicating in the middle of a nap or overnight.
Here are some examples of positive sleep associations:
- Swaddle or sleeping bag
- White noise
- Cuddly/lovey (for older babies who are unswaddled and in a cot)
- Pre-nap/bedtime wind-down ritual