SLEEP TRAINING BASICS
BED TIME ROUTINES
Your baby needs to be able to differentiate between a day time nap and a night’s sleep. To help babies do this, we establish what is called a Bed Time Routine. This can be anything you like- whatever works for you and your family. The key word here is “routine”, something that happens consistently at the same time every day to establish a sense of security and calmness for your baby.
It doesn’t matter what time this happens at, as long as it happens at the same time each day. A lot of books suggest baby being in bed by a set time- usually around 6-7 pm. For some families this means that one parent, or sometimes both parents, doesn’t get to see their child of an evening during the working week. This can be upsetting for everyone involved, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as your baby is getting 17-18 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period, developmentally everything will be fine. You can establish a bed time routine for your baby based around your schedules if you choose to.
Common and effective Bed Time Routines usually consist of feeding your baby, giving your baby a warm bath to encourage relaxation and drowsiness, reading a story, poem or some other form of quiet soothing parental interaction- although we highly recommend story reading as it has been proven to help with language development. For the purposes of a bed time routine, story reading is less about stimulating pictures and textures and more about your soothing voice. Save the highly coloured images and interactive “touch me” books for day time stimulation.
You don’t have to follow this method if it doesn’t suit you- you can modify your baby’s bed time routine to whatever you want it to be. As long as it is soothing and consistent it will work.
Your baby’s sleeping environment is crucial to establishing proper sleeping habits. Temperature, noises, and light level are the three biggest factors that need to be addressed.
One of the most common reasons babies wake at night is temperature discomfort. The recommended temperature for a baby’s room is 20-22 degrees C (68-72 degrees F). This may feel a little cooler than you are expecting.
With the room at this temperature your baby should be dressed in a baby grow or something similar and wrapped in a light blanket or a well fitted baby sleeping bag.
Your baby doesn’t have to sleep in an environment of total silence. This can be unrealistic and difficult to maintain. Back ground noises are fine as long as they aren’t sudden or extremely loud.
Some babies respond well to music and it will help them to fall asleep, for others it can be over stimulating. You will know quite quickly which category your baby falls into.
White noise / background noise machines
These aren’t essential, but can be useful as a sleep cues. Some babies love white noise and fall asleep almost instantly. (If you have a baby who falls asleep while you are doing the vacuuming then it is likely your baby falls into this category). It is worth experimenting to find if your baby is one of these babies as it can help ease the sleep training process.
A common misconception parents have is that their baby won’t or can’t sleep because they are afraid of the dark.
Babies are born with two things that scare them. Loud noises and the sensation of falling. Everything else is learned behaviour, including fear of the dark. Your baby doesn’t need a night light or any other form of light gadget to sleep. These aren’t totally redundant and can be very useful sleep cues if used during a bed time routine instead of the main light- the lower light level helps to signal baby’s brain that it is time for bed. However, during actual night sleep a light is not recommended. Having light in the baby’s room can serve as a visual stimulant when and if the baby wakes, making it harder to resettle. Another point to be aware of is that light is a signal for the pituitary gland, the part of the brain that governs hormone release. When it is dark, the pituitary gland signals the brain to produce melatonin (the sleep hormone). If there is artificial ambient light in the room it can interfere with this process. It is for this reason we do not recommend night lights during sleep training. If you need to go into your baby’s room at night to change them etc… try to use the lowest level of light that you can to get this done so as not to visually stimulate your baby.
If you are training an older baby or a toddler who is used to having a night light, or at least some level of light in the room, don’t worry! If your older child has a deep-seated fear of total darkness (which is common in toddlers) let them keep their night light. It is better that older babies/toddlers feel calm and safe in their sleeping space. If they have learned that a light makes them feel safe, removing it suddenly will make sleep training much more difficult. You can sleep train them with the light in the room, just gradually try to reduce the amount of light until it is no longer needed.