One of the most common challenges new parents face usually revolves around sleep.
“How do I get baby to fall asleep?”
“Once they’ve finally drifted off, how do I help them stay asleep?”
Within the first year, your baby will go through many developmental stages, and at each stage, there will be different sleeping habits and patterns. So sometimes it may feel like the minute you’ve found something that works, you’re back to square one the next day trying to figure it all out again.
The sleep will get better over time as your baby adjusts to life outside the womb. While that happens, here are 7 healthy sleep habits to incorporate into your day to help your baby establish a strong foundation for sleep.
Many of these tips work wonders for us big people too!
1. Develop a sleep routine
Going through the same flow of events leading up to nap or bedtime helps give baby cues on what’s happening next. Have a shorter wind-down routine before nap time, while bedtime routines can run a bit longer.
For example, a simple routine for nap time may look like a diaper change with a couple minutes of massage, then swaddling or putting on baby’s sleep sack, singing a lullaby and then into bed.
2. Use light and darkness to help baby regulate their body
Open up the blinds in baby’s room in the morning and expose them to light first
thing when they wake up and throughout the day. This will help baby differentiate between day and night, helping to regulate their circadian rhythm so their days and nights don’t get mixed up.
In the evening, start dimming the lights or closing the blinds in your home 2hrs before bed to help baby prepare for the transition to sleep. Keeping baby’s room as dark as possible for naps and bedtime helps signal to their bodies that it’s time to sleep.
3. Watch for sleepy signs and cues
Along with tuning into appropriate awake windows for your baby’s age, pay attention to signs that your baby is starting to get tired. Rubbing their eyes, yawning, pulling on their ears, glazed over stares, fluttering eyelids, fussiness, and sucking on their fingers are common cues to look for. Catch these signals in time and help baby wind down to avoid having an overtired baby who will have a much harder time falling sleep.
4. Use healthy sleep “props”
A white noise machine, lovey, swaddle/sleep sack, small blanket (depending on age), are all great objects to introduce to baby’s sleep routine. Parents often worry that introducing a sleep object may create a dependency that is difficult to part with later on, but many children will naturally transition out of using one or more of these items as they get older. Just make sure a specific prop doesn’t become the ONLY thing that will get your child to sleep.
5. Practice independent sleeping skills
Offer your baby opportunities to practice the skill of falling asleep by laying them down drowsy but awake. Waking up in the same place they fell asleep helps create a sense of security, and they won’t be confused about where they are if they wake up mid-sleep.
Imagine if you fell asleep somewhere and woke up somewhere completely different. It’d probably feel pretty disconcerting right? Help your baby avoid the confusion and the need to check in with whether they are still safe, which helps baby have better sleeps.
Often times your baby may wake up briefly, stir, change positions or toss and turn a little bit as they learn to connect sleep cycles. Pause and give them some time to try to put themselves back to sleep without rushing in right away to help them.
Tune into what their noises and cries mean and when you truly are needed for assistance. If they get upset really quickly after waking up, it might be an indication that there is more that’s going on.
6. Make sure baby’s environment promotes sleep
Our surroundings play a huge role in how we function in a space. When it comes to your baby’s sleeping environment opt for a simple and minimalistic design that isn’t too overstimulating and distracting for your baby.
Be mindful of artwork, mobile, toys, lights, and decor that may distract your baby from sleeping, and keep baby’s room cool (between 20° to 22.2°C) so they can snooze comfortably.
7. Monitor activity level throughout the day
Having a balance of active and calming activities throughout the day helps baby exert their energy while not becoming overstimulated.
Following an eat play sleep routine can help baby develop a natural rhythm to flow through the day. Start with a feed when baby wakes up, then some play time before winding down for sleep. This not only helps ensure baby gets a full feed when they eat after they wake up, it also helps to avoid the feeding to sleep association.
Bonus tip: Eliminate electronics 2hrs before bed because the blue light from screens can suppress our sleepy hormone, melatonin. This is true for big people as well as our little people.
Getting nourishing sleep is just as important to our bodies as eating and drinking, and it’s essential to maintaining optimal health and well-being. Begin with these fundamentals to help your baby develop healthy sleep habits, and stay consistent with them when your baby is going through a sleep regression.
Cherrie MacLeod is a positive parenting coach, mama and founder of Parenting Littles. Her background is in early childhood education, she completed her M.Ed at the University of British Columbia, and has been helping parents navigate the journey of parenthood for the past 15 years.
She is passionate about helping modern families reduce the overwhelm and stresses that come along with growing a family, and her work focuses on empowering parents with tools to raise children who are confident, kind, resilient and equipped with fundamental life skills that will help them thrive.