Infant Sleep Tip #5

Happy spring to all! My apologies for being slow to post more infant sleep tips. My household has been busier than usual this month, partly due to my son’s recent obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) diagnosis and subsequent tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Much more on that very soon. Suffice it to say, I am now on a crusade to tackle pediatric OSA.

But for now, here are another tip for your infant’s sleep. If you missed the first few, please click here.

Infant Sleep Tip #5: Create a quiet, sleep-friendly environment.

Your baby’s environment strongly affects her sleep. Whether she sleeps in your room or her own, the space should be peaceful, safe and generally free of stimulation. This means room darkening shades and calm soothing colors in the bedroom and on her sheets. In short, the sleep environment should be B-O-R-I-N-G! Comfortable, cozy, but boring! Avoid mobiles, lights, crib toys, and busy patterns. When I walk through the bedding department at stores, the incredible number of boldly patterned crib and bedding accessories always surprises me. At bedtime, we want the message to the brain to be “Slow down,” not “Stay up and focus on the fuchsia colored giraffes lining your crib!” This is particularly true if your child has an alert temperament.

We also want the crib to be a place for sleep and maybe a few minutes of quiet play after waking. It’s not a place to park the baby while you wash the dishes or a pen for the baby to play in when she begins to crawl. Those associations make a difference.  Again, we want the message to be clear: this is the place where you sleep.

As Dr. Harvey Karp recommends in Happiest Baby on the Block, white noise can be very calming, particularly for alert babies because it helps them shut the world out. If you have a busy, noisy household with older children, barking dogs, ringing phones, or street noise, white noise can be a game changer. I recommend white or gray noise because they are constant and buffer noise best. Sounds like crashing waves, chirping birds, etc., which may sound nice to us, do not work well in this regard. Be mindful of the volume – which should be relatively low – the sound is meant to buffer noise, not block it out completely.

Motion sleep can trip up parents. Babies are very portable. They can sleep wherever you put them – car seats, strollers, swings, carriers, and noisy cafes. But even though they can do this, it doesn’t mean they should. It’s ok some of the time, especially in the late afternoons when their naps are shorter and less restorative anyhow. But try to have them nap in a quiet crib or bassinet most of the time – especially after the first few months. Motion sleep keeps the brain in a light sleep and as babies mature, they need deeper sleep as well. Think about it, when you doze off in a car, do you feel as refreshed as if you had slept in a bed?

Getting her out of the car and into the crib may mean that you will be more housebound, until your baby develops more predictable nap patterns. If you go stir crazy, invite a friend to visit, make a deal with your partner so you can get some time off. You don’t have to be super rigid; an occasional stroller or car nap is fine. But respecting your baby’s need for quality sleep is important and will pay off in spades.

Enjoy this time with your little ones. More tips coming soon!