“Sleeping like a baby” is most often used by adults to describe the peaceful slumber characteristic of infants, toddlers, adolescents and teenagers. Unfortunately this nighttime escape from the hectic daytime parenting of children will be destroyed if parents do not manage pre-sleep behavior. Humans and animals are “hard wired” to sleep and given the proper environment and behavior we can sleep well. If sleep is viewed as an unnecessary disruption in daytime activities, overall health and quality of life will suffer. A simple look at how daytime behavior, bedtime routines, and the bedroom environment, impact sleep will set children, and adults on the path of nighttime slumber we all “dream” of getting.
The first step in getting children of all ages proper sleep is for parents to make sleep a priority.
Parents often change their behavior during the week but especially during the weekend. Late nights out, dinner at friends, school functions can all lead to different bedtime routines for infants. This change in routine is usually one of the first steps in the long process of poor sleep. Parents should make sure that their newborns are in an environment that will allow them to get 15 to 18 hours of sleep daily. From 6 weeks up to one year old, infants should be allowed to sleep 14 to 15 hours per day. This would include naps that occur in the morning and afternoon.
Preparing for Bedtime
· Starting with the first night at home, you and your baby should develop a routine associated with sleep. If you do not have one now, it is not too late to start.
· Prepare your baby and infant for bed by verbalizing to them that it is time to go to bed. This should be one hour to a minimum of 30 minutes prior to putting them in bed.
· A warm bath in a dim lit bathroom is a good way to decrease core body temperature, which is beneficial in initiating sleep.
· Take your child to their bedroom. Keep the lights very dim. Darkness allows the brain to produce melatonin, which is necessary for sleep. Any amount of light can disrupt the production of melatonin and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. For infants up to 4 months, naps should be taken in the dark. After 4 months and the goal is to start consolidating more sleep at night, daytime naps can be taken with some amount of light. Read a book to your child or play nighttime music and sing to your child. You should do this for 15 to 20 minutes. If your child starts to fall asleep lay them down. It is important that you lay your child down before they fall asleep.
· White noise machines are great for bedtime and naps. Do not use music or other sounds like rain, waves, etc. after they are asleep. The white noise helps to drown out noise from inside and outside the house. If you have a child with colic, very loud white noise from a vacuum cleaner can be beneficial.
· If you feel the need for a night light in the bedroom purchase a “low blue light” night lite. The blue wave spectrum of light is what decreases the production of melatonin.
· Always put your child in their own bed and on their back to sleep. Avoid any temptation of allowing your child to sleep with you. This reduces the incidence of SIDS. A large percentage of adults snore which can disrupt infants sleep. If safety is an issue use a monitor to listen for the baby. If your child moves a great deal try and swaddle them in a blanket.
· For children that use pacifiers it is tempting to allow them to fall asleep with one in their mouth. This can be disruptive if they develop nasal congestion and are unable to breath through their mouth due to the pacifier. If parents do not start this behavior babies will not expect a pacifier at night or during naps.
· Do not allow your baby to have excessive amounts of blankets or soft toys in their bed that can cover their mouth or nose.
· Keep the room cool. Your child will most likely have pajamas and a small blanket swaddled around them. If it is too warm it will disrupt their sleep.
The key to children and parents getting a good night of sleep is routine and consistency. Parents need to understand that poor sleep in infants can happen around illness, change in sleeping environment or other external factors. This should not lead to a change in how sleep is managed. The disruption will be short term as long as parents do not make it a chronic problem. As a parent, next time you find yourself unable to sleep, start acting like a baby. Try the tips above for two weeks, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and the next time your baby is unable to sleep you may just be able to cope with it just a little bit better. Sleep tight.
Robert Oexman, D.C.
Robert Oexman, D.C., is Director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, Mo. He oversees the Institute’s research studies, particularly the impact of the sleep environment on quality of sleep. He received his Chiropractic degree and was in private practice for four years before joining Leggett & Platt, Inc. While there, Dr. Oexman developed and managed an ergonomic research center focused on bedding, furniture and automotive seating.
Dr. Oexman has worked on research projects at major universities across the U.S. He also lectures nationally and internationally on the topic of sleep and how the environment impacts sleep. He received his Doctor of Chiropractic from Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City, and his Master of Business Administration from Missouri State University. Dr. Oexman is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Missouri State Chiropractic Association. He received his postgraduate training at the Sleep Medicine Center in Stanford, Calif.