In this three part series about optimizing your child’s sleep environment, we are going to explore the top 3 tweaks that you can make to promote snoozing.
“My first child can sleep anytime, anywhere so I have no idea what to do to help her little brother.” As a child sleep consultant, I hear this almost daily from exhausted and exasperated Moms who are struggling day and night to get their babies to snooze.
Some Moms are blessed with unicorn babies who are super flexible and come out of the womb with this sleep stuff figured out. The rest of us are wracking our brains, reading a million mommy boards and blog posts and contemplating a child sleep coach to figure out what to do…sound familiar?
There is a lot that plays into promoting slumber for our little ones, but one of the first things that I examine as a pediatric sleep specialist is the child’s sleeping environment. Sometimes even making small tweaks can make a world of difference.
Part #1: Lights Out – creating the ideal darkness
“But I thought I wanted to have a bright bedroom so that my little one can figure out days and nights?” is another popular question from Moms.
Sleep Coaching Science
Babies are not born with fully developed circadian rhythms (a fancy way of saying sleep cycles) – it usually takes somewhere in between 2-4 months for babies to be mature enough to learn their days from their nights. This is why your newborn may appear to be a rock star – cue the song “Up all night, sleep all day!”
On top of that, it takes babies somewhere in between 9-12 weeks to begin fully producing the sleepy hormone, melatonin. Around this time is when the pineal gland matures and melatonin production increases under the right circumstances. Melatonin is responsible for helping the body control sleep/wake cycles and is determined by how much light enters the eye. Melatonin is broken down by light and therefore babies and toddlers produce lower levels during the day and in brighter environments.
This may be one reason why your baby/toddler may snooze beautifully at night (or not!), but has difficulty napping. With the decrease in melatonin, it can be difficult for your baby to fall and stay asleep during the day. This is another reason why during daylight savings time it may be harder for your child to settle at bedtime or wakes up super early.
What can you do to optimize your child’s sleep environment?
With my sleep consulting clients, I recommend darkening their child’s bedroom to a 9 or 10 out of 10 to help with melatonin production to aid in sleep. A dark, almost cave like sleep environment can help to solve common challenges, including difficulty napping, falling asleep at bedtime and early bird wake ups.
- Inspect the room at night and during the day to determine light sources and then cover them
- Invest in room darkening shades and blackout curtains or a full blackout solution
- Cover all blue or white light sources with black electrical tape
- If you are going to use a nightlight, only turn it on for diaper changes/night time feedings and ensure it is a red or yellow nightlight.
- Same goes for toddlers that are afraid of the dark – when introducing a nightlight, ensure you aren’t utilizing a blue light nightlight which could be stimulating and offset melatonin production
- As part of your bedtime routine, lower the lights in the whole house 30-60 minutes before the bedtime routine and turn off the TV/tablets. Blue light emitted from electronics can be stimulating.
Try out these recommendations in your child’s sleep environment and let me know if you see any change.
Follow Bella Luna Sleep Consulting on Facebook to be notified of Part #2 where I’ll share how to ensure the right temperature for your child’s bedroom to promote sweet slumber.