Guest Author: Alicia Sanchez
Parents know that the idea of sleeping like a baby isn’t really a thing. When people say they’ve slept like a baby, they imply they enjoyed a sound, restful night of sleep. But parents of infants often experience the exact opposite, as newborns and young babies wake often during the night and can leave parents chronically short on sleep.
As a parent, it’s you job to teach your children how to live in the world, and one of the first important lessons is how to sleep well. Babies don’t come out of the womb instinctively knowing how to sleep well. Healthy sleep is something that’s developed and taught, and it starts with you.
Teaching infants healthy sleep habits can help them sleep better when they’re brand new, but healthy sleep habits established early on can support a lifetime of good sleep. Use these tips to help your baby (and yourself) sleep well at night and maintain sleep health.
- Understand babies don’t sleep like adults.Many new parents are in for a literal rude awakening when they realize babies don’t sleep through the night right away. Newborns don’t have developed circadian rhythms, and they are in a stage of high needs. Often, they become hungry frequently during the night, or they may need comfort or a diaper change. Sometimes they’re too stimulated to sleep. It’s important to go into the newborn stage knowing that it will be tough and your baby will sleep on a somewhat irregular schedule in the first few weeks until they start to develop a regular sleep and wake cycle around six weeks.
- Start a regular sleep schedule.Although babies in the newborn stage haven’t physically developed a circadian rhythm, you can help give it a jump start. Give your baby a regular schedule at night and throughout the day. Make sure you’re starting consistent bedtime rituals at the same time each night and waking them up around the same time each morning. With a consistent sleep schedule, babies can know what to expect and you may find that they naturally start to get sleepy around their usual bedtime. Consistency in scheduling is important throughout the day as well, as you can maintain regular nap times and get them used to following a routine not just at night but during the day as well.
- Make your baby’s nursery healthy for sleep.While you may have a baby who can fall asleep in any environment, keeping their nursery sleep focused will help in the early stages and as they grow. We all sleep better in an environment that is cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable. Your baby should sleep in a crib designed for their needs. Keep their room quiet and dark at night and turn on a fan for good air circulation and cooling. When changing or feeding, avoid turning on bright overhead lights or making a lot of noise. However, it’s ok to let a little light and noise in their room during daytime naps. Even though they’re sleeping, babies need cues like light and noise to reinforce in their internal body clock that it’s daytime and they should nap instead of getting a full night of sleep. If your baby naps during the day as if they’re sleeping at night, they may be too well rested when bedtime actually rolls around. Don’t bother using blackout curtains or shushing out household noises for naptime.
- Start bedtime when they’re sleepy.When your baby shows signs of sleepiness, it’s time to start the bedtime routine. Sleepy babies may cry without any other apparent reason, rub their eyes, or simply become fussy. It’s a good idea to catch babies at the time when they start to get sleepy rather than when they’re overtired, as they may have a hard time getting down if they’re too upset from being so tired.
- Be active during the day. Your baby’s internal clock depends on cues to tell it when it’s time to be awake during the day or asleep at night. Just as you should allow noise and light during daytime naps, you should give your baby stimulation during the day to send a signal that it’s daytime and time to be alert. Read, sing songs, take your baby on outings, or practice tummy time during the day to encourage sleeping longer at night.
Establishing healthy sleep habits in babies can be tough, especially early on, but it’s worth it. If you can stick to supportive sleep habits for your baby, you can improve their sleep quality and length so you get more rest at night, while also giving them a good foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep.
Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.
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