Ideal sleep environments for babies and toddlers

By Elisa Reeves, ONE.CHEW.THREE

Let’s talk sleep. We’re a family of four. Three of us love sleep. One doesn’t. Our youngest, two, is the black sheep of the family when it comes so sleep. While we’re all wanting to snuggle into the doona, he just wants to stay awake.

We’ve tried it all… from sleep school (twice, we failed round one) to sleep consultants. So we wanted to share our experience and advice for the ideal sleep environment for babies and toddlers. Because it’s important to get a few fundamentals right, for the best chance of rest!

Routine

Babies love routine! They find comfort and predictability in routines. So, find a bedtime routine and stick to it. Ours goes a little like dinner, bath, bedtime stories with milk and then sleep. And this routine is recommended to be in relatively quick succession – so it feels like a routine. It’s best to shut down TV’s and electronic devices and avoid bright, stimulating light for an hour before bed so that the body starts to wind down and prepares for sleep.

Another tip we found useful – bananas. Foods high in magnesium and potassium can help the muscles to relax while tryptophan converts to serotonin and melatonin to create a calming hormone for the brain. All this equals natural sleep and working this into your dinner or dessert may just help your little one relax.

Both my boys have one comforter that they love to sleep with – we only use them for bed and sleep and they are such a strong sleep association. Once we get through the routine, they reach for their comforter and roll on over.

White noise

This one is all about creating a familiar and comforting environment. We knew about white noise, but the one thing that surprised us was the volume. We naturally wanted a soft, low level but (and think of all those babies sleeping through vacuuming) it needed to be a little louder – think the level of running water when you’re in the shower. We used an iPad app and settle for a wave sound with subtle chimes – because we live by the beach this was comforting for us. There are so many great free apps that let you mix a few sounds and find the one that works for you, but just remember, stick to the one you settle on.

Light

We naturally wanted the room black. As black as black could be. Blockout curtains, cardboard on the windows, you name it, we tried it. But while light is one of the biggest regulators of our body clocks (my fav thing about winter is that extra little sleep in), babies need to know where they are when they wake. With a sleep cycle lasting around 45 minutes, when they do wake, a soft, subtle light will help with familiarity of the environment. And the best tone – orange… a subtle glow without stimulating the senses. Again, iPads are great with lighting apps that allow different colours. Just remember you want a very soft and dim light – you’ll barely notice it’s on when you are getting ready for bed, but check out the light later when the house is dark and your own body has adjusted and you’ll be surprised how bright it actually is!

Temperature

My least favourite because getting this right is challenging, but it really is so important. Let’s start with the facts - ideal room temperature is between 21-23C (experts suggest below 12C or above 23C is not conducive to sleep). Sleep tends to be better in cooler environments. Grab a room thermometer and this one is sorted.

But what to dress them in? And just when you do feel like you get it right, the weather changes! There is no right or wrong and all environments (and babies for that matter) will be different. So, all you can do is experiment. Between dressing them in suits (long sleeves, short sleeves, legs, no legs) and layer with singlets, it really is trial and error and best driven but your own dressing habits overnight. And don’t forget the swaddles and wraps – steer clear of blankets and either swaddle in wraps or use sleeping bags. Not only it is safer, it’s also easier to keep temperature consistent as you know they won’t be kicking off the blankets. The best advice for clothing and wraps – look for natural, breathable fabrics that allow the body to regulate their own temperature.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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