- SLEEP FRIENDLY LIGHTING - Ninety nine percent of baby nightlights inhibit sleep. Light on the blue colour spectrum inhibits melatonin, the hormone of sleep, and tricks the body into thinking it’s daytime. It isn’t just obviously blue light that is an issue though. Most white light is actually very blue, especially energy-saving lightbulbs and halogen spotlights. So too is light that looks green, blue, purple and pink. Which coincidentally tend to be the colours used in most child night lights. Our ancestors would have lit their nights with fire and candles, both sitting on the red colour spectrum. We can replicate this effect by using red light at night.
- BEDROOM TEMPERATURE - Our modern homes tend to be well insulated, retaining heat and saving us money on our fuel bills. Central heating quickly and efficiently heats our homes too. The optimal room temperature range for the best sleep is 15-18C. This doesn’t mean the child should be cold at night. The aim is “warm body, cool room”.
- HUMIDITY - Temperature aside, air conditioning and central heating can cause trouble with sleep in another way. Playing havoc with room humidity. Anything that dries the sleeping environment can mean that the child wakes more for milk. Where an adult may take a glass of water to bed to place next to their bed, babies and toddlers tend to wake and cry for milk if they have a dry mouth. This doesn’t mean that fixing the humidity will stop the child from needing to feed at night, far from it, but it will remove those extra humidity related feeds.
- BEDDING - Sometimes adding an extra layer of clothing, such as a long sleeve vest, or upping the tog rating of a sleepsac can really help sleep. Generally speaking, in the optimal room temperature zone, you’re looking at 2-3 togs.
- MUSIC - If you sing your baby to sleep, or use a mobile, or stuffed animal that plays music for fifteen or twenty minutes at bedtime, you could be causing your child to wake more. Why? Babies and toddlers have very short sleep cycles, lasting for 40-60 minutes depending on age. At the end of this sleep cycle, one of three things may happen. 1. They move straight into a new sleep cycle, 2. They wake fully and need your help to start a new cycle, or 3. They rouse slightly, but not fully, and if all is well they start a new cycle independently. Number three is where it is important to consider any constants in the room. If a child goes to sleep with music, that music needs to be present ALL NIGHT.
- SCENT - The smell in the world that relaxes your child the most is their parents’ scent. If you could bottle your smell and spray it around your child’s bedroom it would surely comfort them. Many people pop muslins in their tops to absorb their scent and then leave the muslin with the child, or one of their t-shirts or pyjama tops. This can work well for some, but some – most – need more. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to select an aromatherapy oil that you like. Lavender and chamomile are particularly good for sleep, blended together. Wear as perfume each day for a month or so and then use in an aromatherapy diffuser for an hour or two before bedtime. Only recommended once your baby is at least 12 weeks old.
- A CONSISTENT BEDTIME ROUTINE - Scientists unanimously agree. If there is one thing that has the biggest impact on child sleep, it is a consistent bedtime routine. While a similar bedtime each night is important for setting the child’s circadian rhythm (body clock), what is more important is doing the same thing in the same order each and every night. For instance, a bath, followed by a massage, followed by a story, followed by a breastfeed or bottle. Try to keep the bedtime routine calm and play free, but before you start the bedtime routine, try to fit in at least 30 minutes of playtime, especially if you work or have more than one child. Taking time to reconnect before bedtime starts has a great positive impact on sleep. Bedtime itself is important, particularly for toddlers and older children. In western culture we seem to have an obsession with a 7pm bedtime, however research suggests that we’re probably putting our children to bed too soon. A more biologically appropriate bedtime is around the 7:45-8:15pm zone (the time to aim for the child to be asleep, not to start the bedtime routine). Putting a child to bed before their body is chemically ready to sleep can result in bedtime resistance, more night waking and earlier mornings.
- BEDTIME SNACKS - For older babies and toddlers, introducing a bedtime snack can help sleep. Aim for the snack just before the bedtime routine starts, around an hour before the child goes to sleep. Incorporating a snack that contains tryptophan, an amino acid that influences the production of sleep hormones, is a great choice. Child friendly sources of tryptophan include cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds and wholemeal/wholewheat bread. My favourite bedtime snack is almond butter on wholewheat toast, with a few banana slices on top.
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