Now that baby’s out of the womb, there’s a whole new world of sights, sounds and smells to grow accustomed to. Suddenly their environment’s filled with glowing screens, beeping cars and heavily perfumed great aunts. So can you really blame baby if sometimes it’s a tad hard to fall asleep?
Rest assured, there are simple steps you can take to make sure baby’s sleep environment is at least optimized for getting zzz’s. Whether you’re a new parent or this is your third time at the rodeo, here’s our guide for setting up a sleep-friendly nursery for infants at any stage.
1. Scout a location
Wherever you call home, baby will need a dedicated space for sleep. According to Christina Gantcher, a New York City-based sleep trainer, babies are more aware of their surroundings after six to eight weeks. That’s why daytime and nighttime sleep should always happen in the same location, as opposed to 10 different places. Pick a spot for the nursery and stick to it. Otherwise, baby might feel out of sorts.
“Confusion creates crying, it’s really just that simple,” Gantcher says. “Babies thrive on consistency, they thrive on predictability. So we want to provide that as much as possible.”
In cases of co-sleeping or room-sharing, Gantcher recommends designating a section of the room just for baby.
“Many times I suggest a curtaining off of the baby’s sleep space so that they are as distraction-free as possible,” she says. “Put either a folding screen or sort of a hospital curtain from the ceiling to block off, visually, their sleep space.”
2. Be crib smart
The crib is baby’s home base, so safety’s of the utmost importance. Keep things simple. Stay away from soft or loose bedding, bumpers, wedges, pillows or stuffed animals inside the crib, all of which are safety hazards. A firm, full-size crib mattress with a fitted sheet helps safeguard against possible suffocation. Also think about choosing a crib that’ll grow with baby.
“Children should really be in cribs until about three years old,” Gantcher says. “Very few children are ready to get out of a crib before that and into a bed for safety concerns and developmental impulse control. So you really want a crib to last for those years.”
Crib placement is key too. Keep it far from any windows, so the steady stream of natural light won’t affect baby, and avoid placing the crib directly under a ceiling fan, Gantcher says.
3. Go dark…really dark
There’s a good reason darkness goes with sleep like peanut butter and jelly. It cues sleep in the body. To get baby ready for bedtime, dim the lights and turn off all those phone and tablet screens half an hour to an hour before bedtime, says Gantcher.
“Melatonin and growth hormone are both secreted in the early evening hours,” she says. “When we provide dimmer lights it helps the onset of melatonin, which is a fantastic thing because that’s the body’s natural sleep aid.”
After that, it’s lights off. Keep the nursery as dark as possible for both naps and evening sleep. That might mean putting black-out shades on the windows.
“We really want it pretty dark because light really affects the brain,” Gantcher says. “A lot of our internal clock is based off of light and dark, so when it’s dark it makes our body more naturally want to fall asleep than if it’s light out.”
4. Add background noise
Baby’s nursery should be like the reference section at the library – quiet and snooze-worthy. As Gantcher puts it, “Would you sleep well in the middle of Grand Central Terminal?”
But even with peace and quiet, baby might still pick up on background sounds you hardly notice. A white noise machine can be lifesaver, especially if baby doesn’t have their own room or you live in an apartment with thin walls.
“We don’t want to give them any reason to be disturbed in their sleep,” Gantcher says. “White noise is a great environmental thing to use so that they don’t hear the next-door neighbor and their dog or when they drop a pan.”
In lieu of a machine, a white noise app will do. Many parents also use a fan or the fan setting on their air conditioner, Gantcher says, both of which provide that essential background hum.
5. Keep it cool
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a nursery temperature that’s comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. Keep tabs on baby to determine if the temperature’s right. If baby’s sweating or has flushed cheeks, for example, it could mean the room’s too hot.
As far as baby’s sleep wardrobe, go lightweight and use layers. There’s a range of options available, from swaddle wraps to wearable blankets and, of course, footed pajamas, which never seem to go out of style.
“Parents should think that the room is comfortable and if it is a little cool, then maybe put an extra layer on the baby,” Gantcher says. “And if it feels a little too warm, then take a layer off.”
6. Get in touch with your soft side
The nursery is meant for sleep, not 24/7 fun and games. So pick a décor theme that’s soothing – neon colors need not apply! Gantcher suggests soft, muted tones like pastels. Wall art can bring a room together, but pick designs or decals that don’t stimulate baby’s inner Picasso. Save mobiles for non-sleep time too. After all, play is for the family room, not the nursery, says Gantcher.
“Many people want to make things bright and entertaining,” she says. “And the truth is our bedrooms are really for rest. They’re not for entertainment!”