Are you wondering “how can I help my baby sleep better?” Feat not! No matter what your baby’s age or how they are currently getting to sleep, there are some things that you can do tonight that will improve your baby’s sleep.
1. Get the environment right!
Your baby will be able to fall asleep and stay asleep longer if their environment is optimized for sleep. Use blackout blinds to create a deeply dark space. Block out distracting noises while also calming the sleeping brain with white, pink or brown noise. Make sure the room’s temperature is a little on the cool side – about 20°C – and use a sleep sack to keep baby sleep warm and cozy.
2. Expose baby to morning and evening light!
Exposure to natural sunlight can help synchronize a baby’s circadian rhythms and promote healthy sleep patterns. This is because natural light contains a full spectrum of colours and wavelengths that help regulate the body’s internal clock. Research has shown that infants who are exposed to natural light during the day tend to sleep longer and more soundly at night. Get baby outside for 15 minutes within 45 minutes of their ideal wakeup time. Repeat again later in the day with another 15 minutes of outdoor light exposure within 45 minutes of their ideal bedtime.
3. Always place baby in their crib awake!
Start placing your baby into their crib at naptime and bedtime completely awake. Not drowsy and not already asleep; they need to learn how to fall asleep from being awake. The first few times you do this your baby will likely be very unhappy. There are many different ways to help your baby learn how to fall asleep from being awake and aware. You can learn more through excellent books like Loved To Sleep by Andrea Strang or Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West. Or you can work with a sleep consultant who can provide a personalized plan for coaching your baby through learning how to fall asleep.
4. Watch the wake windows!
There is a finite amount of time babies can stay awake at any given time. We call that a “wake window” and as babies grow, their windows get longer. While you may think that keeping a baby awake for a long time means they’ll be good and tired and help baby sleep better, nothing could be further from the truth.
The longer a baby is awake past their window, the more likely they are to be overtired, making it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Overtired babies will wake frequently overnight and have short naps. Find out what your baby’s wake window according to their age and place them in their crib when they reach the end of their wake window, not when they start showing signs of tiredness. After 12 to 16 weeks, relying on signs of tiredness to know when to put a baby down for a nap can mean baby is already on their way to being overtired. There is a sweet spot just before they show tired signs when they find it much easier to fall asleep.
5. Be consistent!
No matter which method you choose to help your baby settle themselves to sleep, always stick to the plan. Do the same thing, over and over, and your baby will know that this is what happens each time they go to sleep. They will begin to anticipate and need sleep to happen in the same way each time.
If you are consistent, you will achieve your goal help baby sleep better with minimal or no intervention. Following a plan some of the time means you probably won’t achieve your goals. Babies will not know what to expect from each nap and bedtime and it will make them upset and unwilling to settle to sleep.
Bonus: Don’t be scared of the crying!
There are sleep coaching methods that boast they cause no tears, in my experience all babies will cry, if only a little. Don’t be afraid of those tears. Your baby is letting out their frustration, their exhaustion and their crankiness at doing something differently all of a sudden and crying is how babies express these big feelings. Heck, even I sometimes need a good cry when I’m overtired.
Babies’ cries are designed to make their parents want to rush to baby’s side and take care of them and it can feel psychically painful when your baby is crying. But a good sleep coaching plan will make sure your baby’s tears are reduced each time they settle to sleep. In fact, in my experience, when you have a good plan and support from a sleep consultant, tears are very short-lived. Most of my clients experience a dramatic reduction of tears in the first night of implementing a sleep plan. Don’t let a fear of your baby’s cries stop you from helping them learn the valuable skill of falling to sleep. After all, there are so many benefits to sleep training a baby!