A positive baby sleep environment is an important cornerstone of sleep training that’s often overlooked. When we think about infant sleep, it’s easy to get distracted by books, schedules, and training methods.
Not to mention, if your baby is unhappy with his current accommodations, it’s totally easy to miss. Our babies can’t tell us that they’re hot or cold or can’t stand the incessant hum of the TV downstairs. The only clue we have is continuous crying and disrupted sleep.
In this post, I’m going to help you create the perfect sleep environment your baby wishes he had. We’re going to talk about why positive sleep environments for babies improve their sleep habits and how you can (easily) create one in your home.
Are you ready to finally get more sleep? Let’s get started!
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- 7 Things that Are Ruining Your Baby’s Sleep
- Baby Sleep Schedules 101: How to Create the Perfect One for Your Baby
The New Mom’s Guide to Creating the Best Sleep Environment for Babies
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What is a “Positive” Baby Sleep Environment?
Chances are, your nursery already contains the beginnings of a great sleep environment. If not, it’s so easy to create one.
A positive baby sleep environment is simply a quiet, cozy place that encourages your baby to fall asleep, stay asleep, and achieve restorative rest.
Location doesn’t matter so much as consistency and environmental factors. Meaning, even if your newborn sleeps in your walk-in closet, as long as he sleeps there consistently, and it meets the recommendations below, it can totally be a great sleep environment.
An ideal baby sleep environment usually focuses around five factors: temperature, sound, lighting, sleep surface, and safety. Below we’re going to go over easy ways you can optimize these factors to help your baby sleep.
Why Your Baby Needs a Positive Sleep Environment
There’s a lot of misconceptions to how and where your baby should sleep. You’ve probably already heard the advice, “your baby should be able to sleep anywhere.”
The idea behind this concept is to discourage touchy sleepers. Unfortunately, laying your baby down in any old place can actually hinder his sleep.
Just think about it. How do you, as an adult, sleep when you’re surrounded by bright light, distracting noises, and uncomfortable surroundings? You might eventually fall asleep, yes, but that kind of environment doesn’t promote the restorative rest you need to rejuvenate.
A baby is just getting used to life outside the womb. During this terrifying new stage of life, consistency and structure will help him adapt better. Laying your baby down in a dark, comfortable place allows him to predict this new routine and fall asleep easier.
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A Bad Sleep Environment Can Cause Disruptions to Sleep
Just like adults, babies tend to sleep fitfully when they’re uncomfortable. So, not only can a poor baby sleep environment prevent him from falling asleep, but it can cause him to wake up more often and feel less rested.
Cue the cranky baby.
Here are just a few signs that your baby’s sleep space could use some improvement:
- Baby is overheated or cold
- He wakes up every hour or two but not hungry
- Wakes too early in the morning
- Can’t fall asleep
5 Simple Ways to Create the Perfect Baby Sleep Environment
Your baby’s room and body temperature should be monitored to reduce the risk of SIDS. Not only is the wrong temperature dangerous, but it can be very detrimental to your baby’s sleep.
Just think about how impossible it can be to fall asleep in an uncomfortable climate. Adults can simply turn on a fan or move their foot out from under the covers. Babies don’t have this option.
If they’re bundled up too much, their only chance of a reprieve lies in crying. It’s up to us to ensure that baby is in a comfortable climate that promotes the best sleep.
You’ll need to do a little bit of detective work to see if your baby is overheating or cold.
Many babies have cold fingers and toes. The most accurate way to check is to feel baby’s chest. If his chest is chilly, that’s a sure sign that you need to adjust the thermostat or add some layers.
Signs of overheating are a little more obvious. Keep an eye out for the most common symptoms:
- Sweaty palms and pits
- Heavy breathing
- Heat rash
- Flushed face
- Damp hair
Now that you’ve established whether your baby is hot or cold, you need to adjust either his clothing or the room temperature to optimal baby sleep environment standards.
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Ideally, your baby’s room should fall between 68-72 degrees.
Speaking from personal experience, constantly monitoring the temperature in your baby’s room is downright exhausting. If you have the capability of installing a smart thermostat like the Nest, I would highly recommend it. Otherwise, a digital thermostat that is either synced with your phone or in sight of your baby monitor is a great alternative.
Figuring out the exact combination your baby needs can require a little experimentation. Some babies are very sensitive to warm materials, such as flannel or fleece. Others need their feet uncovered during the night.
Below is just an example of what worked with my own daughter. My daughter ran a bit on the overheated spectrum, so light layers and a cool room temperature worked best for her. You need to experience a little trial and error before you find out what’s right for your baby.
(Room Temperature – 71 degrees)
- Heavy swaddle + Diaper
- Light swaddle + Onesie T-Shirt
- Swaddle + Swaddle Blanket
- Swaddle + Onesie T-Shirt+ Swaddle Blanket
(Room Temperature – 68 degrees)
- Swaddle + Onesie T-Shirt+ Swaddle Blanket
- Swaddle + Footed Pajamas.
- Footed Pajamas + Sleep Sack
- Fleece Pajamas
SHORT ON TIME? PIN IT FOR LATER
As your baby develops, his circadian rhythm will too. A baby’s circadian rhythm is essentially the biological clock that regulates his sleep cycle. This cycle is stimulated by different environmental factors, but namely sunlight and temperature.
You can help your baby develop his circadian rhythm by simulating a dark environment for his naps and nighttime sleep.
Figuring out the degree of darkness you need to invest in can take some trial and error. For some babies, a pair of curtains or shades is more than enough to create a peaceful baby sleep environment. However, other babies are very reactive to sunlight.
My daughter, for example, wakes up at the first hint of sunlight. I’m convinced that if I didn’t have two levels of light blockage in place, she’d still be a 6AM waker.
If you throw up some shades and your baby is still waking up or having trouble falling asleep, try investing in some blackout curtains. They are very inexpensive on Amazon (or Costco) and they work great. If you don’t have the money for faux blinds or blackout curtains, you can also tape opaque construction paper to your window.
RELATED POST: What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Too Early
A fear of the dark doesn’t generally develop until the toddler years. So, if you don’t need a nightlight in your nursery, it’s totally okay to skip out on one.
Many moms use a nightlight for those late-night feeding sessions. When you select a nightlight, try to avoid blue-tinted bulbs. Blue light waves actually suppress melatonin production and can hinder your baby’s sleep.
A Final Note on Melatonin
You’ve probably heard about melatonin, the miracle hormone that helps your baby fall asleep. Some parents believe that you should let your baby nap in sunlight to help him produce melatonin during the day.
This technique has a major flaw: your baby’s main priority during nap-time is to rest. Day time rest is essential to your baby’s mental and physical development. Sunlight actively suppresses melatonin production, which can disrupt this rest.
As long as your baby is safely exposed to sunlight during the day, his circadian rhythm will develop with time.
Sound is another essential player in the development of your baby’s circadian rhythm.
To fall asleep, your baby’s sleep environment should be quiet and peaceful. This tells his little developing circadian rhythm that it’s time to go to bed.
A quiet space will also help your baby stay asleep. Your newborn may be able to sleep through anything and everything now, but once the 4 month sleep regression hits, you will probably have quite the opposite experience.
This sleep regression marks the permanent transformation of your baby’s sleep cycles. Approximately 45 minutes after your baby falls asleep, he’ll transition into deep restorative sleep. During this transition period, he is much more susceptible to waking up. If there’s a fair amount of noise surrounding your baby’s nursery, he may not be able to continue napping.
Now, if you’re starting to worry that your home requires absolute silence, don’t!
I’m talking about disruptive, jolting sounds such as the television, dog barking, yelling children, or fireworks. If disruptive sounds are infiltrating your baby’s sleep space, it might be a quick fix. Most sound enters a room from the gap underneath the door. Installing a toe kick or weather stripping can be a quick fix.
White Noise Machines
If your baby is still having trouble sleeping, the solution might be to add noise.
White noise machines emit a steady, low frequency sound similar to radio static. These sound waves dull the louder, more disruptive noises in your home.
White noise machines come in several varieties. Personally, I loved the Skip Hop Owl Night Light. I used it as a night light for the duration of my breastfeeding days and still use the white noise function for my two year old.
The comfort level of your baby’s sleep surface actually makes a huge impact on the quality of your baby’s sleep. Your baby’s sleep surface should be flat, firm, and completely devoid of all blankets, pillows, or toys.
Having said that, your baby’s mattress should also be comfortable. Discomfort can be an issue particularly for older crib or portable crib mattresses. Check the structure of the mattress to ensure that there are no lumps or framing digging into your baby’s back. Just like us, lumps and bumps can cause backaches, making great sleep impossible.
Great sleep starts with safe sleep, for you and your baby. A safe sleep environment not only ensures that your baby is able to sleep with security, but you can sleep more confidently.
Some of the concepts we’ve already discussed above (flat sleep surface, ideal room and body temperature), but there are a few other safe sleep guidelines you should keep in mind:
- Baby should sleep on his back
- Ensure that your home is cigarette smoke-free
- Room share for the first 6 months at least
- Independent sleeping is safer than bed-sharing
- Remove all loose bedding, including blankets, bumpers, pillows, stuffed animals, and loose-fitting sheets
- Make sure there are no strangling hazards near the crib, such as cords, strings, or wires
- Remove excessive clothing (bibs, hats, or loose swaddles) before bedtime
What’s Your Experience with Sleep Environments for Babies?
Hopefully by now you feel a little more confident about optimizing your baby’s sleep space.
With a few quick changes to your baby’s room, you can dramatically improve his sleep. Plus, if you’re reading this before your baby is born, you’re way ahead of the curve. 🙂
If after all this, you’re still experiencing sleep troubles, feel free to check out the rest of our baby sleep posts and download a free copy of our sleep schedule bundle.
There’s a sleep troubleshooting worksheet included that I think you’re going to love.
There are so many nuances to infant sleep that even experts don’t understand. If you have any experience creating the perfect baby sleep environment, I know the rest of our moms would love to hear from you. We need all the inspiration we can get!
Have fun creating an awesome sleep space, Mama! Good luck!