Ever wonder what the pillars of healthy sleep are? This article will provide you with that information so that you can make sure you have the foundations in place to get your little one the sleep he/she needs!
- Nutrition: Appropriate nutrition is fundamental to solid sleep especially during the early stages of a baby’s life. The AAP recommends breastfeeding as breastmilk solely meets the baby’s exact nutritional needs. However, in working with their pediatrician, families can find the perfect formula for their little one. Whether it be breastmilk or formula, the most important thing to establish is a consistent feeding schedule to ensure that a baby is getting as much nutrition as possible during the day to prevent unnecessary wakings overnight. Without daytime intake schedules, babies (especially younger ones) will wake up needing calories overnight. This may include cluster feeds and/or dreamfeeds. Furthermore, many pediatricians will recommend starting solids as young as four months. This change can also affect sleep as there is the potential for introducing allergens, inflammatory foods, processed food or other items that may affect digestion and therefore sleep. Sleep is completely dependent on how, when and what nutritional needs are met.
- Sleep Environment: An environment conducive to sleep is also critical to sleepy hygiene. The perfect sleep environment is completely dark with, quite frankly, zero light. One should not be able to see their hand in front of their face once the lights are off. Temperatures should be set between 68-72 degrees and white noise should be utilized throughout all sleep times. From 0-6 months of age, a baby’s crib should not have anything in it other than the mattress and a snug, fitted sheet. After six months, bumpers are permitted but no other loose items should be in there. The crib settings should be lowered as the baby grows and is able to sit, stand or climb.
- Bedtime Routine: A consistent bedtime routine is absolutely crucial to sleep! It does not have to be elaborate or detailed but must allow time for the baby or child to unwind and prepare their bodies’ for sleep. A warm bath approximately 45 minutes to an hour prior to lights out has been shown to calm baby’s central nervous systems which is conducive to sleep. Not all babies can be bathed nightly (skin concerns) in which case a warm washcloth to wipe the baby down can replace the bath. This can be followed by a ‘baby massage’ with baby safe lotion or oil, nighttime diaper, pjs and swaddle or sleep sack. As appropriate, offer a bottle/breastmilk in the room, outside of the crib, with the lights on. Next can be a short book or song, snuggle and then placing the baby down drowsy but awake. Nap routines can be similar but shortened (no bath or change of clothes).
- Morning Wake Ups: Creating a morning routine is just as important as bedtime/nap routines. The wake up time should be consistent daily. I often recommend making the wake up a very big deal. Use lots of enthusiasm to greet your baby (“good morning sweet boy! What a great job you did last night!!!). Opening blinds to let natural sunlight in is also important. Immediately change your baby’s diaper, clothes and offer a feed. Then continue on with your daily schedule!
- Emotional Needs Met: The final component of healthy sleep is meeting babies’ emotional needs. A baby’s sense of security, belonging and self all begins with a positive, intentional relationship with his caregivers. Spending quality time interacting with a baby allows him to safely explore the world using his senses. Babies truly need love and support to become emotionally stable. Taking the time to show your child loving emotions, connect with him/her, smile, laugh and love throughout the day meets a need that will foster healthy sleep overnight.