Creating a Healthy Sleep Foundation for Your Infant by: Stephanie Quinto Owner, Pediatric Sleep Consultant + Parent Coach Catching Dreams Sleep & Behavior Consulting
When I was pregnant with my oldest, I researched breastfeeding, babywearing, and childbirth but never once did it occur to me to learn about baby sleep. I quite naively assumed that my daughter would just sleep. Well, to put it mildly, I was dead (tired) wrong! My sleepless journey led me to create Catching Dreams Consulting and become a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. Believe it or not, creating a healthy sleep foundation for your infant is easier than you think. All you need is the right information and that’s what I’m going to give you here!
This is everything I wish I knew about baby sleep during that first year.
Optimize the Sleep Environment
The first priority in creating a healthy sleep foundation is optimizing the sleep environment. Babies sleep better in a cool, quiet and dark environment. We want it to feel almost cave-like. Once day and night confusion has disappeared, around 6-8 weeks old, this is the best sleep environment for your infant.
The ideal temperature for sleep is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. When we sleep our internal body temperature drops so if our environment mirrors what our body is doing, we sleep better. This is true for babies and adults alike.
While some people believe in being loud while a baby sleeps so they “get used to it”, I definitely do not. Wouldn’t a noisy house wake you up too? Instead, use a sound machine tuned to white noise. The white noise creates a soothing consistent sound that will block out street or household noise. Set it to around 50 decibels, about the same volume as a running shower. You can also use a free decibel meter app on your phone to ensure it’s not too loud. There’s no need to tiptoe around your house if you’ve got white noise!
A dark room is probably the most important element of the sleep environment. When I say dark, I mean dark- like you can’t see your hand in front of you level dark for both day and night. Darkness signals the body to make melatonin, our sleepy hormone. We want all the melatonin we can get! Your baby's natural melatonin will help them fall asleep and stay asleep resulting in longer, more restorative sleep during the day and at night.
Install good blackout shades. If light is peaking in through the sides use blue painters’ tape or Velcro to secure the drapes to the wall. Also, be mindful of any other sources of light like the baby monitor, an air purifier, wipe warmer and so on. You can use black electrical tape to cover all of those little lights. When a young baby is working on connecting sleep cycles these little lights can be super distracting so covering them is imperative.
A Soothing Routine
Routines are huge when it comes to baby sleep! A soothing sleep routine will be part of your kiddo’s entire childhood so go ahead and start young. Begin to develop a bedtime routine around 6 to 8 weeks. This is when your little one hits their first sleep milestone and it’s also the time they begin to give you those heart melting social smiles.
The key to a solid routine is that it is soothing and predictable. Babies are little pattern seekers and within a week your little one will understand the routine and know that sleepy time comes next. Your bedtime routine should be about 30 minutes long and can include activities like: bath, singing, baby-led play, reading, wearing your little one in your Baby K’tan, saying goodnight to the objects in the room, cuddles while rocking, prayers, telling a story about the day, hugs, kisses and a bedtime message, the last thing you say to your little one while putting them down.
Choose whatever elements you and your little one enjoy. When you’re establishing the routine, I recommend having these 3 consistent elements no matter what– the same book, same song, and same bedtime message. Keeping these three steps the same every single time will help your baby understand the routine more quickly. After about a week, you can switch up the book but keep your song and bedtime message consistent. My girls are now 4 and 5 years old and we still sing our songs every night.
Schedule: The Game Changer
Having an age appropriate schedule is a game changer! If the schedule isn’t right, sleep won’t be. I have seen this time and time again with my Catching Dreams clients. When we fix the schedule, sleep gets so much better!
In the first 4-5 months, you won’t have a set schedule. Focus on learning your little one’s sleepy cues. Noticing their early sleepy cues is really important. These cues are more subtle like zoning out, staring into space, becoming less social or vocal, and less interested in toys. When we see these early cues, we know it’s time to begin a quick nap time routine and get them down for sleep. Later sleepy cues include pink color around the eyes, rubbing eyes, pulling ears, turning head from side to side or becoming whiny and clingy. Now, your kiddo is telling you they really need sleep now.
Also, in the first 4 months use wake windows to time sleep. Wake windows refer to the amount of time your baby is able to be awake between sleep periods. In those first few months wake windows are short! Shockingly short. Babies require a lot of sleep and frequently! For a 0-2 month old, the wake window is 45 - 60 minutes. At 3 months, it increases to 1-1.5 hours and at 4 months about 1 hour and 15 minutes up to 1 hour and 45 minutes. Nailing the timing of sleep will keep your little one from becoming overtired which is a recipe for poor sleep.
Between 4 and 6 months old, sleep matures drastically and babies are ready to transition to biological sleep times AKA “bio times”. These are windows of time on the clock when baby can get the most restorative sleep possible because of circadian rhythms and increases in melatonin. These “bio times” are 8:30-9 am and 12-1 pm. To find your baby’s sweet spot within these windows of time, watch for their early sleepy cues. I say keep one eye on the baby for sleepy cues and one eye on the clock. If your little one is still needing a third nap (babies 4-8 months), it should be about 2 hours after the midday nap based on sleepy cues.
Lastly, keep bedtime early between 6 and 7:30 pm based on the quantity and quality of daytime sleep and their sleepy cues. Notice how much I talk about sleepy cues? They’re that important.
Establishing the environment, routine, and working towards an age appropriate schedule will lead you to a healthy sleep foundation for your infant. Remember, baby sleep has its ups and downs but by using these tips you’ll definitely have more successful nights and naps!
You can get in touch with Stephanie Quinto at Catching Dreams on her website here and on Instagram here.