Setting the appropriate mood is one of the most important things you can do to encourage your child to sleep. I think it’s helpful to remember that you can’t actually force your child to sleep, but you can make the environment as relaxing, comfortable, and conducive to sleep as possible. Like most things, consistency is the key, and maintaining a similar sleep environment and routine will allow your child to anticipate bed and nap times. Here’s what has helped my kids:
1) Keep it dark – Most people simply sleep better in the dark. I recommend getting blackout shades (these are a great, inexpensive option) or even taping up black garbage bags over the windows. If you are able to blackout a room during the day, there will be consistency between night and daytime and you won’t have to worry about early wakings due to sunlight. While some older children might need a small nightlight, young babies don’t yet know to be afraid of the dark and can actually be distracted by small lights (like on a monitor or temperature device). We use black tape to cover over any small lights in the room.
2) Play with the temperature – I know that a lot of experts argue that we need cooler temperatures to sleep well, but I think that a comfortable sleeping temperature is a personal preference and you need to experiment to see what works best for your child. Some like to be bundled up, but have the air at a cooler temp, while others might want minimal clothing in a warmer environment. Pay attention to your child and see when they tend to sleep best, and also what they were wearing. Personally, my kids sleep in full footed sleepers (or long pjs with socks) year round, but Rylan likes it set cooler than Brandon. For infants, you have to be mindful that you don’t want to overdress them since it can be a SIDS risk.
3) Love the lovey – An age appropriate lovey can be a huge comfort to a child at bedtime. If you are strict about it, and allow the lovey only to be used during sleep times, it can also be something that your child actually looks forward to come bed or nap time. This is important to remember if you don’t want your future toddler to walk around with a worn out blankie all day. Personally, I don’t have too many qualms about this, and Brandon can have his lovey if we are traveling, watching tv, or going for a long run – but that’s a whole different topic! A lovey is also a great replacement for the pacifier. I am not a fan of the pacifier. If your child is old enough to locate their pacifier in the dark and pop it in their mouths, that’s fine, but I don’t want to be the mama doing that for them all hours of the night. My kids both suck on their lovies, and have been able to find them themselves if they are dropped since they were a few months old (3 months is when I first introduced a lovey to Rylan).
4) White noise – A white noise machine is an easy way to block out any errant noise and can be very soothing to a baby. The machine should be positioned far from the crib, but turned to a level loud enough that it will actually be effective. We bring ours with us every time we travel, which is a great way to signal to your child that it’s time to sleep even if they are in a different environment.
5) Make it comfy – A comfortable but firm mattress is a good place to splurge when it comes to the nursery. Some kids can sleep on harder surfaces, like a playpen, but if we are traveling we like to line the playpen with quilts (underneath the sheet) so that it is more cushioned. Both my kids also like fuzzier sheets.
6) Have a consistent routine – This is probably the most important point. The actions you take before you bring your child into their room (which has been prepped accordingly) should be consistent so as to give them a clear signal that it is time for them to relax and sleep. Before bed you might do a bath, bottle, book, and prayers. You can then do a modified version before naps – like a book & prayers. I also like to do the pre-bed/nap routine outside of the nursery, so that when we walk into the room it is already dark and the noise machine is on. Whatever it is you do, just try and stick to it each time you put your child to sleep.
What are some of the things that you’ve done to help make your child’s environment more sleep conducive? Have you stuck with the same things or has your child’s preferences changed over time?