6 Steps to a Healthy Sleep Environment

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As soon as you bring your newborn home from the hospital, it’s time to start thinking about their sleep environment.  You won’t be ready to put them in their own room by themselves all night, obviously, but you will want to decide where you’re going to attempt to have your child sleep at night.  Whether you are going to co-sleep with your child or have them in a bassinet, rock and play, or crib, these tips can help you get your baby on track to a better night’s sleep. 

·         Lighting.  From early on your baby’s little body can tell the difference between natural sunlight and darkness.  They’re circadian rhythm is sorting itself out and they need exposure to natural sunlight during the day as well as a dark room for sleeping at night.    So when you want to signal your baby that it’s time for “the long sleep,” get the room completely dark.  Use blackout shades if needed to block out the sunset and/or sunrise.  It’s best to keep the room dark all night long so when your baby wakes between sleep cycles, they note the room is still dark which signals their brain to drift into the next sleep cycle.

·         Noise.  When babies are under 3 months old, we call this the fourth trimester since they haven’t developed many skills that would allow them to survive outside the womb, and treating them like they’re still inside helps to keep them calm.  When a baby is in the womb, the noises they hear are similar to white noise (e.g. a vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, blender, etc.), which is why playing these sounds can be very soothing to a newborn.  Having the room be completely quiet is often disturbing to a newborn because it is so drastically different from what they were hearing in the womb.  White noise machines can be purchased, or you can set up a cd player or smartphone/tablet to play it from an app or track downloaded from iTunes. 

·         Temperature.  Grandparents are notorious for assuming that your little peanut is always freezing and they want to dress them warmly.  But babies should actually be dressed just the same as you would for the temperature in your room or wherever you are.  The ideal temperature for sleeping is between 68-72 degrees so if the room is at this temperature, there is no need for extra blankets or heavy jammies.  (Please note blankets or loose items should NEVER be placed in a crib/bassinet with a baby for the first year of life to reduce the risk of SIDS).  As long as your baby’s torso is warm, even if their hands and feet feel cold, they are not actually cold.  You’ll know if your baby is too hot if their ears are red, they’re sweating, or if their cheeks are red.

·         Bedding.  Babies should sleep on a firm mattress, preferably from organic materials, with a tightly fitted sheet underneath them.  Pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals should NEVER be placed in the crib with a baby for the first 12 months to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). 

·         Air Quality.  When you have a new baby in the house, or children of any age, the home should be free of smoking.  Other air conditions that can cause difficulty in sleeping can be dust, pollen from outside, or pet dander/fur.  If there are a number of these things in the air in your home, consider getting an air filter to help baby get a good night’s sleep.

·         Position.  All babies should be placed on their back when being put to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS.  Once a baby is old enough to roll themselves over, their necks will be strong enough to shift from side to side so they don’t suffocate.  Babies should NEVER be placed on their stomach to sleep.

For more information on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, please visit www.sids.org .