Sleep. At first it seems so easy, the way your newborn conks out at the breast, or sleeps soundly despite the jagged angle his neck has formed in his car seat. How is it that […]
Sleep. At first it seems so easy, the way your newborn conks out at the breast, or sleeps soundly despite the jagged angle his neck has formed in his car seat. How is it that just months later, sleep can become such an elusive, tricky thing for your growing infant? And why is it that just when you think you have your baby sleeping soundly through the night, you hear him kicking and jabbering in his crib at 3 a.m.? Sleep is a vital part of your little one’s development, so instilling good habits from the very beginning is an absolute must. Follow this expert advice to help baby and mommy both get the sleep they need.
The significance of shuteye
Sleep is an essential factor in a baby’s ability to thrive and flourish. During slumber, the immune system boosts itself to prevent illness, and growth hormone is also at its peak. When properly rested, an infant will be fully alert while awake, absorbing everything like a sponge. When your child is not getting enough sleep, he’s more likely to be fussy, or even hyper-alert and wired.
But that’s not all you should be concerned about: The long-term results of sleep deprivation don’t really begin to show until the time children are school-age. Studies suggest that there are serious potential consequences to not getting enough sleep, warns Ravish Patwardhan, MD, nationally renowned neurosurgeon and sleep expert.“Shorter night sleep before 3 1/2 years resulted in higher risk of hyperactivity-impulsivity scores and low cognitive performance at 6 years.” Another frightening fact: “Low sleep is correlated with increased childhood obesity,” Patwardhan notes.
The importance of routine
Sleep is certainly crucial to baby’s well-being, but how can you tell if he is getting enough? “You can’t extrapolate the signs of sleep deprivation to younger kids—it is quite different and much more complex,” says Sally Ibrahim, MD, pediatrician and sleep medicine specialist. “The development of your baby is impacted by so many other things besides sleep.” The most proactive measure you can take is to instill good sleep habits in your child from the very beginning. Ibrahim advises, “It is critical to make routines positive and aim to lessen the need for the parents to be present in order for the child to build self-soothing behaviors.” In practice, “When your child appears drowsy, put him down so he can learn to sleep on his own. This really helps the child, and prevents the caregiver from always rocking him to sleep.” Says Ibrahim, “The baby has normal wakings during the night, and they can be easy or difficult on the parents, depending upon whether or not the child is used to the caregiver putting him back to sleep.”
How then can you help lull your child to sleep successfully? Alan Greene, MD, pediatrician and author, explains, “Every single day our bodies reset our internal clocks based on signals in the environment. If the signals are in sync, then we sleep best.” There are several steps you can take to reset baby’s internal sleep rhythm.
First, control his exposure to light. “The brain is paying attention to whether it is daylight or nightfall. Very bright light during the day (even during naps) and dim light at night (even while feeding), can help get your baby on a schedule,” says Greene. Setting your thermostat at least seven degrees cooler at night can also help. Finally, “try not to make a lot of eye contact after sunset. Eye contact is very powerful and stimulating, much like coffee to babies,” says Greene. Another great piece of advice for parents: “Many kids have an evening fussy period, and figuring out which things work best to calm [them] can help, since an adrenaline rush often comes with fussiness,” says Greene.
When it’s time to put your sleepy baby to bed, the importance of a bedtime routine cannot be stressed enough. “It is never too early to encourage a bedtime routine,” says Ibrahim. “Make it a very positive experience —dim the lights, tone down the noise, talk in soft voices—these are all very specific cues that it is time to sleep.” A soothing bath, storybooks and lullabies are all great for bedtime routines. Make an effort to begin preparing baby for bed around the same time each evening, remembering that when it comes to teaching your child healthy sleep habits, consistency is key.