As college educated adults, my husband and I thought we were fairly smart when it came to establishing healthy sleep habits for our son. We always had him in a darkened room. We tried our best to sleep while he slept to maintain both household quiet and our own sanity. Still, there were four tricks that have proven most effective in establishing healthy sleep patterns.
1) Choose the Place in Your Home Most Conducive to Sleep – We thought we knew what we were doing when we gave our son the bedroom right off the living room, and we were wrong. Too much light, too much noise, and too many feet passing by the room on the way to the bathroom meant that our son slept fitfully until the rest of the household settled in for the night. As soon as we swapped rooms, he slept better. While switching bedrooms is not plausible in all living situations, consider finding a new place in an existing room for the bed – can the bed go in a warmer spot, in a darker spot, in a slightly quieter spot on an opposite wall?
2) Establish a Bedtime Routine – When our newborn slept five hours his first night on earth, we thought we had it made. We failed to establish a bath time and bedtime routine and simply trusted his natural instincts. That lasted two days. After one night of up-every-hour, we knew a routine was crucial. Our son starts his bedtime ritual at the same time each night with a few books – now that he’s a toddler, he hands us the books he wants us to read and wants to snuggle in his favorite chair. Next, he has bath time. After his warm, steamy bath, he’s pleasant, sweet-smelling, and drowsy. As soon as we zip him into his jammies, his eyes start to close, and he is officially ready for bed.
3) Adjust Household Routines to Fit Baby’s Bedtime – Once we realized that we can’t just drop everything at 7:30 and start baby’s bath, our daily routines changed to make our household more conducive to our son’s sleep (and because he sleeps better, so do we). It takes time to find out what works. We used to have dinner around 7 and then head straight to bedtime. We eventually learned that our son needs an hour or so of activity before his bath in order to sleep his best; so, we started eating dinner earlier. We have played over time, with the schedule to find a routine that best fit our son’s needs. We are much saner as a result.
4) Expect (And Work With) Change – As parents, we mentally prepare ourselves for change. Sometimes changes are permanent, such as the change we know is coming when we move our son from a crib to a toddler bed. Other changes, like the month-long adjustment to daylight savings time, present only a temporary bump in the routine. When we remember that a child’s growth is simply one, long, sloppy list of change, we can better handle a rough night or a total change to the pattern. We are kinder to each other, as partners in this parenting adventure, when we realize that we will face imperfect nights. In fact, the rough nights handled with sanity inspire the most beneficial changes. We had a calm, collected conversation after a few such nights and realized we needed to change our son’s bedroom. Acknowledging change means that we all stay happier, healthier, and better rested.