How to Set Up an Optimal Sleep Environment for Your Baby

Nursery

One of the first steps to great sleep hygiene for your little one is to set up an optimal sleep environment. This not only sets the tone for good quality sleep but helps your baby to anticipate sleep based on the environment that they enter for their wind down routine. 

It is so important that we know about safe sleep first and foremost. The risk for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is drastically decreased if the following recommendations are followed.

Safe sleep as recommended by the AAP should be followed at all times

This includes:

– Room sharing for the first 12 months

– Sleeping your baby in their own safe sleep space (in a co-sleeper bassinet pushed up against your bed is fine)

– Ensuring your baby’s mattress passes the firmness safety test

– No loose blankets or bedding in your baby’s bed

– No stuffed toys, sleep positioners, sleep pods or cot bumpers in your baby’s bed

– Always sleep your baby on their back.

Now that we’ve covered the safe sleep fundamentals, let’s look at the optimal sleep environment. The environment in which your little one sleeps is greatly connected to the quality of their sleep.  We want to make sure that their room is conducive to rest and calm. A room full of bright colours and stimulating toys might not aid your little one to switch off and prepare for sleep, especially if they are more sensitive or active in temperament .

Dark Room

This becomes really important from about 8 weeks when your little one’s maternal melatonin has run out and they start producing their own. When your baby is sleeping in a dark room, it will help them settle easier as it triggers their calming reflexes and reminds them of your womb. It also helps them focus on sleep and not all the exciting things going on around them that they can see. Serotonin (the awake hormone) is converted into melatonin (the sleepy hormone), but this only happens in the dark! If you can read a book in your baby’s room, the room needs to be darker. You can use blackout blinds or travel blackout blinds to help create a nice dark room. Alternatively, a more cost effective option is using tinfoil or black craft paper on the windows. Sounds crazy right? But it works! From about 2 years old your little one may develop a fear of the dark. This usually happens around the time that their imagination develops. In this case from around age 2, you can use a red night light.

White Noise

White noise is a fantastic tool for settling, and acts as a positive sleep association in your baby’s sleep environment. And the more positive sleep associations that your baby can draw from that don’t require you, the better. When your little one was in your womb they had constant and loud whooshing sounds from your heart beat to digestion to blood flow. This is why white noise is so soothing for them and triggers the calming reflex. It is also really effective for drowning out outside sounds that could wake your baby. Some babies prefer a deeper sound like pink noise, so you may want to experiment with different types of frequencies to find one that is most soothing for your little one. You can use a portable white noise machine that you can use when out and about too. I highly recommend a machine like the Dreamy Days White Noise Machine. It is important to play white noise as loud as a running shower or vacuum cleaner and continuously for the duration of naps and nighttime sleep (in order for it to be most effective). White noise is a valuable soothing tool that provides a consistent sleep environment and blocks out external noises that may disrupt your baby’s sleep. A safe volume is 65-75 decibels. The machine should be at least a meter away from your little one’s head. You can use a decibel meter app on your phone and measure the volume where your little one’s head would be. 

Swaddle

Swaddling replicates the comfort your baby was used to in the womb, triggering their calming reflexes. If you think your baby doesn’t like to be swaddled it could be because it is not being done correctly or your baby is just very tired and over stimulated (in which case, swaddling is incredibly important). Arms down swaddles are preferred as they help control the startle reflex and prevent your baby from breaking out. If their swaddle is too loose and their little hands and arms start flailing, it becomes very stimulating for them and can seem as if they don’t like it. If your baby is sleeping in an arm up swaddle and you notice they are difficult to settle or catnapping, try an arms down swaddle. You can swaddle your baby until they are rolling from back to tummy, which is generally between 4-6 months of age. Watch this swaddling tutorial for a step-by-step guide. Alternatively, some great swaddles to use that keep baby nice and snug, are a GroBaby Swaddle Wrap, Miracle Blanket or an ergo pouch. You would need to transition from the swaddle when your little one is 4 months old or has started showing signs of rolling from back to tummy. Then it is highly recommended to use a sleep sack (read below).

Room temperature

If your baby is too cold or too warm, it can disrupt their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The ideal temperature for your baby’s bedroom is 18-21°C. It is important to layer them appropriately for the temperature of the room. Most sleeping bags come with a layering guide based on their weight or a tog rating. It is important to follow these guides correctly to ensure your baby isn’t too hot or cold. You can also feel your baby’s chest or back, if they are cool to the touch, they are likely cold, if they are hot or clammy, they are likely too warm. A lot of early morning waking is due to being cold as the body temperature drops around 3/4am. But if your little one is dressed for the coldest part of the night, they shouldn’t wake from getting too cold at this time.

Once you have set up the ideal sleep environment for your little one, and you are still experiencing difficulty when it comes to sleep, you may need to look at other aspects like scheduling (awake times, nap timings and nap lengths), settling preferences or an underlying medical condition. When I work with parents to reach their sleep goals, I take a holistic approach. We optimise the sleep environment first, get to know your baby’s unique temperament and sensory preferences, then move onto finding the optimal settling method and sleep schedule for your little one so that night sleep can consolidate. There is so much to consider when it comes to sleep, and you don’t have to muddle through it alone!

If you want help with this, check out my guides below:

If you want one-on-one support, these are your options:

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