What Is Good Sleep Hygiene? And Why Is It Important?
Good sleep hygiene is a strange saying and one you might not be familiar with, but you should be as a parent to a baby or toddler who needs to sleep. We’ve collaborated with one of UK’s leading sleep experts, Jo Tantum, to give you information on what it is and why it’ll help your family sleep better.
I know the title sounds technical and scientific which is true, but I’m going to explain what good sleep hygiene is all about and why it’s so important for you and your baby’s health and wellbeing.
Good sleep hygiene is all about introducing healthy sleep practices as soon as your little arrives, or as soon a you are comfortable to do so. It’s about creating a nurturing environment so your little one can feel safe and secure whilst independently setting themselves to sleep. It’s not about leaving them to cry or get upset. It’s helping them to fall asleep without sleep props like rocking, patting, feeding, pushing them in the pram. It’s all about teaching your baby to love sleeping, which is a gift that will last many years.
How to teach your baby how to sleep
1) Newborn babies don’t really know the difference between night and day until around 6 weeks old. This is because their circadian rhythms, which produces the sleepy hormone - melatonin, aren’t developed yet. You can help your baby with this transition by making sure day and night are very different. Ensure your baby feeds regularly during the day, around every 3 hours. Change your baby’s nappy before a feed to help them feel awake during the day. Keep your baby awake after a feed in the day and have a short playtime whilst you talk and sing to them, this will break the feeding to sleep cycle.
At night make sure it’s as dark as possible. Only change your baby’s nappy if it’s dirty after the dream feed. Only have a low light on - like a bee light for feeds and changing as light will wake them fully. Unless they are premature or low birth weight and you’ve been told to wake them in the night, then let them sleep as long as they want to.
2) Babies will get tired in the day very quickly, and when they are little it’s really easy to teach them to fall asleep on their own. Up to the age of 6 weeks babies will need to have a nap every 1 hour of wake time, that’s just enough time for a feed, nappy change and a short play/chat. This increases by 15 minutes every few weeks. So at 3 months this will be every 90 minutes of wake time. Swaddle your baby - swaddling your baby will help them settle better as they are born with a startle reflex and will continually wake themselves up unless they feel cocooned and secure. Always use a light stretchy breathable material - give them a cuddle and place them in their moses basket. For the first few weeks this can be downstairs in the lounge with you.
3) Using either calming classical music or a sleep aid like MyHummy or Ewan the Dream Sheep or a sleep app that plays womb sounds will really help your baby relax and drift off by themselves. Calming sounds are proven to help your baby get to sleep more quickly and sleep longer. Using these sounds for nap times and nights will help your baby be gently soothed to sleep. Using this at night time can also help them settle better, especially when they are fussy. And it really helps if your baby is a noisy sleeper.
4) Using my Spaced Soothing method can help your baby to love sleep without getting upset. It’s about soothing and responding when they need you but taking a step back so they have the opportunity to settle themselves. Watch for your baby’s tired signs like yawning, staring into space, grizzling - these are all signs they are already getting overtired. Then swaddling them, cuddles and in the moses basket. Place your hands on them and gently rock side to side whilst saying shush. You can also stroke your baby’s soothing post, this is from the middle of the forehead to the tip of their nose. This really relaxes them and they can’t keep their eyes open! Finish the rocking gradually - it should last about 2-3 minutes then just place your hands on your baby and gently pat their chest of shoulder. Once they are staring or starting to close their eyes then step back and watch them fall asleep. If at any point they start to fuss then soothe again. If they get upset then pick them up for cuddles and try again.
5) Starting a bedtime routine as soon as you are comfortable is a great way of getting your baby to understand sleep cues and start to wind down for bedtime. Some parents start this in the first 2 weeks, some parents around 4-6 weeks. Babies body clocks work on a 12 hour day and 12 hour night so you can have any flexible routine you want to that fits in with your family. 6.30am-6.30pm, 7pm-7am, 7.45pm-7.45am etc. You need to start a bedtime routine about an hour before the are due to fall asleep. So having a 7pm bedtime means baby is being fed and almost ready to be put in the moses basket to go to sleep. So around 6pm you can start quiet time, no TV or music, playing classical music is fine. A nappy off time can be introduced around 6 weeks old.Then it’s top and tail or a bath around 6.30pm. A massage after can help with getting them more relaxed. Taking them into their nursery to get them ready for bed can help later on with transitioning into their own room. Feed in the dark or with the landing light on, or a Mee light, as light will stimulate and then they won’t settle. Darkness helps produce the melatonin to help them become sleepy.
6) Making sure your baby doesn’t get overtired in the daytime is the key to helping your baby sleep better. You only have a 15 minute window of opportunity from your baby being tired to overtired. Once your baby is overtired they will need help to go to sleep, rocking them and feeding them and usual techniques to help them drift off. If you continue to get them to sleep this way then that’s how they think they go to sleep. It’s lovely to cuddle your baby to sleep in those early weeks but once they reach 6 months and beyond most parents are feeling the strain both on their backs and from being sleep deprived themselves.
Sleep is so important for your little one’s development so try and help them to learn this valuable life lesson. It’s never too early to start teaching them how to love sleep.
Jo Tantum has many years of experience working with families helping their babies to love sleep. She is a Leading Paediatric Sleep Practitioner, and is known in the UK for providing families with sleep consultation. Find out more at www.jotantum.com
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