It’s no secret that sleep is a common topic of conversation among parents. So much so that the search phrase “How can I help my baby sleep?” »Returns nearly 1.5 billion results on Google.
Fortunately, there are some simple things parents can do to improve the quality of their sleep while their children are young and are waking up during the night. (If you think your child’s sleep is abnormal, see their doctor).
Sleep hygiene is all about working with the natural rhythms of our body. When our sleep systems are in sync, our bodies can fall asleep with relative ease. If our habits work against them, sleep can become deregulated.
The list below provides some adjustments to improve sleep. Remember that every family is unique. Cultures around the world approach sleep in different ways. You know your family best!
Sleep hygiene tips:
Parents have often heard of tips for children’s sleep, such as minimizing screen time before bed, bedtime routines, exercise, and healthy eating. Sometimes we are not as consistent in following these tips ourselves. Put on your own oxygen mask first!
A constant wake-up time can help define the body’s sleep rhythms in a 24-hour cycle.
Early morning light signals your brain that it’s time to start the day. Try a morning walk with your baby, or roll up the blinds and let in the sunlight.
Relaxation time with the family – turn off the lights and choose quieter activities after dinner.
A Dose of Connection – a bedtime story, a gentle massage, a playful tale of the day… all can help meet your child’s need for connection and your need to relax.
Is your sleeping environment conducive to sleep? Is it only used for rest and relaxation? Is it a comfortable temperature? Is it dark enough?
If you look at the clock, count awakenings, or calculate sleep, you can drop the clock. These behaviors usually only lead to further burnout.
For some families, keeping baby close at night helps everyone sleep better. Room sharing has been associated with a reduced risk of sudden unexplained death in infancy. Always investigate the risks / benefits of sleep arrangements with your unique family situation.
Positive psychology and mindfulness. Is your mind filled with stress, worry and daily plans? Are you worried about the night shift or how your baby’s sleep compares to that of others? Thoughts of racing can delay sleep. In a vicious cycle, poor sleep leads to additional stress. Working through negative thoughts and emotions with a friend or a supportive therapist can help the night become a safer and more relaxing experience for the whole family.
Finally, remember that your work in meeting your baby’s nighttime needs is meaningful and enriches their healthy mental, physical and emotional development. In addition to learning about normal infant sleep and seeking practical support, sleep hygiene may be just ONE tool in your toolkit for surviving and thriving during those difficult first years of parenthood.
Jessica De Feyter is an Applied Developmental Psychologist, Certified Infant Sleep Educator and La Leche League Leader working with parents in the Yampa Valley.