There are three things you can’t make your child do (or anyone, really…):
Buuuut, you can set the stage for each.
I ain’t here to talk about poop.
So, let’s talk about setting the stage for sleep AKA the perfect sleep environment!
Before we even get into the things, I want to share why these things are even on the list.
(For Part 2 on how to achieve this space, click here.)
Why does this matter? Why are these things even on the list?
For newborn babies, this environment best mimics the environment from whence they came - the womb, so cozy and safe.
These things either promote melatonin production or are the safest option for babies.
Cool. What’s melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by various tissues in the body, but mostly by the pineal gland in the brain. It’s nicknamed the “Hormone of Darkness”, “The Vampire/Dracula Hormone”, and “The Sleep Hormone” because it’s levels peak at night and promotes sleep, among other things.
Pitch-black dark room
If I had to choose only one element to a perfect sleep environment, I’m pretty sure it’d be a pitch-black dark room. (But, please don’t make me choose!)
A lot of times this change alone corrects nap struggles and early morning wakings!
Darkness plays a key role in stimulating the production and secretion of melatonin, initiating and sustaining sleep.
The majority of melatonin is produced at night by the pineal gland. The pineal gland knows it nighttime by the optic nerve “seeing” darkness. The optic nerve then signals the pineal gland to secrete the melatonin into the bloodstream and cerebrospinal fluid.1
Having it so dark that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face in the middle of the day is so helpful in promoting better sleep for your child and yourself!
Cover the windows; block the light from around the bedroom door; put electrical tape over all the “ON” lights in the room; and get rid of the night lights.
[A note on night lights: Babies are not scared of the dark. Developmentally, they can't comprehend this fear. The most comforting, nurturing place they’ve ever known (the womb) was completely dark. So, no night lights for babies. But, between the ages of 2 and 3, fear of the dark may set in and a dimly lit red or orange night light won’t interfere with melatonin production or be seen through closed eyelids. (We can see light through our eyelids.)]
There are a few perks to having white noise in your child’s room. (Or brown noise or pink noise, so long as it’s a continuous, steady noise.)
For newborns, this too will remind them of their comfortable home in the womb.
For older children and adults, a sound machine protects their sleep space from other, possibly intrusive and disturbing, sounds. (Older siblings running around and squealing during nap time, per se.)
Having a continuous sound throughout the entire sleep time (so, all night long and throughout the entire nap time. No timers.) will not only protect their sleep the entire time, but will prevent them from being startled awake when the sound turns off. That can be just as startling as a sudden loud noise in a quiet room.
And by cool, I mean temperature. 68*-72* is ideal for infants. (60*-68* for adults.)
As we’re nearing bedtime, our bodies start to wind down and “cool off” with a gradual drop in body temperature. If we’re sleeping in a room that’s too warm, it may interfere with that drop of body temperature and hinder sleep.
Conversely, if you’re snuggled up in a cool room, your environment is working with your body’s natural rhythm and therefore, promotes good sleep and helps you fall asleep quicker.
And, fascinatingly enough, a study done in 2018 found that cold temperatures, in addition to darkness, promote melatonin production.2
It’s also believed that babies that sleep in cooler temperatures have a reduced risk of SIDS.3 So, dress Baby appropriately, drop the AC, and/or put a fan in their room. (A fan is a great white noise maker and has also been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS by 70% when running in the room with a sleeping baby.4)
Bassinet > Crib > Bed
Newborns are used to and comforted by small spaces and normally settle best into a bassinet. (But, there’s no hard-fast rule that they have to be in a bassinet. A crib is perfectly OK, too!)
For older babies and children up to the age of 3 (preferably), a crib is the safest place for them to sleep. The rails protect them from rolling off the mattress while asleep and are a clear, visible boundary.
Boundaries bring security.5
It should be noted that for the first 12 months there should only be a fitted sheet in the crib with your child (a pacifier is ok, but that’s it). No loveys, blankets, pillows, or positioners (No Dock-A-Tots, Snuggle Me, or the like). They are not safe for sleep and are not intended for sleep! At 12 months you can introduce a lovey and at 2 years old you can introduce a pillow.
Around the age 3 children are better able, developmentally, to grasp the concept of “invisible” boundaries (like staying in bed). So, this is when I recommend transitioning them to an adult sized bed (twin, full, queen, or king), if they're ready. There's no need to rush. I recommend adult sized beds because toddler beds, especially the cribs that convert to a toddler bed, aren’t enough of a change from the crib for them to best grasp the invisible boundary. To their dismay, you didn’t take one side of the crib off so they can come and go as they please.
Video monitors are a privilege of modern motherhood I am so very grateful for!
Especially once Baby moves out of Mom’s room, or if they go straight to their own room from the hospital, it brings such peace of mind to hear and see them.
Sleep is one thing you cannot make your child do, but you can make their environment conducive for it. Providing them with a dark, cool room equipped with a fan, a soothing sound machine, a safe, comfortable bed and a video monitor, gives the greatest chance they’ll give in to the sandman and catch some Zzzzz.
Click here to read Part 2 where I share my favorite products and some simple and cheap DIY blackout solutions.