The holiday season is over; we’ve eaten our treats, opened our presents, and made our resolutions. Many of my clients are resolving to make 2019 “The Year of Sleep” and working with me to achieve this important goal.
It is no secret that sleep is critical to our daily functioning, mood, physical and mental health, and ability to learn. Getting better sleep can be life changing (just ask a sleep-deprived mother), and if it’s so beneficial for us adults, it is even more important for those tiny humans – the babies and children in our lives.
If the holiday season put your household’s sleep into a tailspin or you’re just hoping to implement some healthy habits this year, I have some tried and true tips to help your whole family sleep well in 2019.
1. Choose an early bedtime
Over the holidays, it can be easy to get off schedule. Family parties, house guests, and New Year’s Eve may have had your little one up well into the night. Hopping right back on track with an early bedtime is critical to laying the foundation for some healthy sleep habits. Infants, toddlers, and school-aged children need 11-13 hours of nighttime sleep, so ensuring your child gets to bed early – especially on school-nights – will help them reach that goal easily. Late bedtimes can result in over-tiredness, and over-tiredness can lead to bedtime battles, frequent night waking, and/or earlier rising in the morning. Appropriate bedtimes may be anytime between 6:00–8:00 p.m. depending on the age of your child and the amount and quality of any necessary daytime sleep.
2. Hello, darkness
Light, natural or artificial, sends a message to our brains that it’s daytime and not time to sleep. Melatonin production – the hormone that helps up fall asleep and stay asleep – is triggered by darkness, so start turning down the lights an hour before you plan to put your child to bed. This is most important when considering electronics, which emit a blue light that is particularly adverse to baby’s shut-down process. It can also be helpful to invest in some blackout blinds; I’ve had many parents tell me it’s the best money they ever spent. Though it is winter now, as the sun starts setting later and rising earlier, your child should continue sleeping as normal.
3. Make it cool
It is so common for parents (especially new ones) to obsess over their baby’s comfort, and to be constantly worried as to whether or not they are warm enough. Babies, like their grownup counterparts, sleep best when they’re warm and snuggly inside of a cool environment. A warm nighttime onesie, a wearable blanket or a sleep sack, and a cool nursery, somewhere around 65°F and 70°F (18°C – 21°C) is the best way to ensure that baby remains comfortable through the night.
4. Keep it boring
We all love the look of a cute mobile over our baby’s crib, the sounds of the little faux-aquarium with its plastic light-up fish, or the ceiling full of stick-on, glow-in-the-dark stars. But even though these things may seem normal or even soothing to us as adults, they can be way too stimulating for your little one…which is great - just not when they’re trying to sleep! That being said, there are two things I recommend including in your child’s room: a continuous white noise machine – which can help to block out any outside noise that might jar your child into waking up – and a yellow/amber-colored night-light which can keep toddlers from getting spooked by the darkness. Other than that, the more boring your child’s bedroom, the better they’ll sleep.
5. Be predictable
It’s likely that over the holidays, you deviated slightly (or not so slightly) from your normal routine. The number one way to get a formerly good sleeper back on track after any type of disruption is to return to “regularly scheduled programming”. A well-planned, consistent bedtime routine is conducive to a good night’s sleep (no matter what your age). Once our bodies and brains start to recognize the signals that indicate an upcoming bedtime, we start physically and mentally relaxing. Energy levels wind down, melatonin production kicks in, and muscles start to loosen. By the time you’re giving your little one a goodnight kiss, their system should be all set for a long, restorative sleep.
It’s important to remember that great sleeping isn’t a one-night operation, especially if teaching healthy sleeping habits to a baby or child for the first time. It takes some time, a lot of repetition, and plenty of discipline and diligence on the part of you, the parent. But once you’re well-rested, you can go out and tackle the rest of your goals for 2019!
Jamie Engelman holds a BA in psychology, an MS in child development, and has spent many years providing personal, in-home support to new moms and families with young children. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and helps exhausted parents get their little ones sleeping through the night and taking restorative daytime naps so that everyone in the family can get the rest they so desperately need.