Babies need a lot of sleep. If you have children or are a new parent, you know this: newborns can spend up to 16 hours sleeping every 24 hours. The sleeping patterns of babies and toddlers can fluctuate, and it’s no easy task to adjust to their ever-changing (and sometimes challenging) sleep and waking patterns.
Whether it be nighttime sleep, an unexpected snooze, or routine naps, sleep is essential to child development. Here are some of the top distractions to avoid if you want to ensure your baby or child gets the sleep they need.
How Babies Sleep
The sleep patterns of babies are expected to be inconsistent throughout the first year of life. Waking every few hours in the first three to six months to feed is normal. Most 12-month-old babies begin to sleep more soundly through most or all of the night as their circadian rhythm develops.
In addition to naps, babies and toddlers begin to sleep through the night. Children taper off of nap time and begin to resemble adult sleep requirements, typically 8-10 hours per night.
Every child is different, which means their sleep preferences and timelines may vary. Remember there’s no exact timeline to follow— your baby may develop sleep habits early, late, or differently than other babies.
Biggest Sleep Distractions and Disturbances to Avoid
Babies sleep best in ideal sleep environments. You want it to be cool, but not too cold; dark, but not pitch black so they can’t see upon waking. The list goes on.
How can you make sure to eliminate sleep disturbances in developing babies? Learn the biggest distractions that may limit your child from falling asleep.
Lights and Nightlights
Babies’ eyes are more sensitive to light than adults. Bright, artificial lights from screens, household light bulbs, and even some nightlights can alter circadian entrainment if overexposed.
Limit your baby’s exposure to digital devices like TV or iPads in the evening. If your baby sleeps better with a nightlight, make sure it’s a dampened, low-wat bulb. Make sure there are no distracting colors or glares your baby feels drawn to stare at.
Electronic Devices in the Bedroom
Today, many electronic toys can entertain your baby with cute motion pictures and music. Avoid placing these electronic toys in your baby’s bedroom— especially near their crib or cot.
If your baby or toddler is familiar with using an iPad or tablet, limit the amount of time they get to spend on it later in the day. It might be helpful to keep these devices separate from the bedroom entirely so you train your child that the bedroom is for sleeping.
It can be distracting to babies more than several months old to see parents in the bedroom while falling asleep. Once babies reach 3-4 months of age, they need to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Sometimes babies of this age cry and won’t calm down, in which case a parent can sit in the room and reassure them to sleep. Gentle “shh-shh”s or “you’re okay, it’s sleepy time” can help soothe the baby. Remember, when you remain confident that it’s time for your baby to sleep, they’ll pick up on it. If you feel unsure, the baby will react to that.
Parents who hover or guardians who check on the baby multiple times after being put down for bed can disrupt the baby’s natural sleep routine. Even if parents are quiet, babies can easily sense their presence and wake up.
Other Children Playing
Most babies and toddlers get easily distracted from sleep if they hear other children playing nearby. This is a common issue when there are older siblings who stay awake during the baby’s naptime.
Whether it be the loud stomps and giggles of other kids or simply toddler FOMO (fear of missing out), noisy child’s play is something to manage during a baby’s nap and bedtime.
Certain Types of Mobiles
Some hanging mobiles are too colorful, big, and distracting during sleep time. While crib and cot mobiles can have some benefits for developing hand-eye coordination, they’re not always necessary. Many times, they can be too mentally stimulating when it’s time for the baby to rest.
Some babies get easily disturbed by the slightest noises. Living in a loud environment, such as a city or near an airport, can startle sleeping babies more often than necessary.
You can swaddle your baby to help them during sleep time. If noises near your home are too loud and continue to disturb your baby’s sleep, use a sound machine to dampen outside noises.
Too Many Toys in the Bedroom
There’s a difference between a comfort toy and a distracting toy during sleep time. A comfort item, also known as a “lovey”, is a baby blanket or favored stuffed animal that helps a child feel soothed. But oversized stuffed toys, messy toys in the bedroom, and loud/flashy items can grab a child’s attention when it’s time to rest.
White noise and sound machines can help drown out distracting background noise if needed. Some sound machines, however, are the source of sleep disturbances in babies.
If your baby’s struggling to sleep, switch the lullaby machine to a white noise machine or vice versa. The right noise diffuser will depend on your baby’s reaction to different types of machines. Some parents find the Baby Shusher machine helps their baby. Alternatively, some babies need silence to fall asleep.
Sleep Tips for Babies, Toddlers, and Young Children
Up to 30% of kids between the ages of two and five experience regular sleep issues. Most children grow out of this after they develop executive functions and learn self-regulation. But during this phase, ongoing sleep problems can negatively affect the whole family.
To promote better sleep in babies and young children:
Know your child. Every baby and toddler has unique sleep strengths and weaknesses. Learn their sleepy signs and adjust routines to encourage sleep. If your child has atypical behaviors or a diagnosis, know how that can affect sleep needs.
Stick to a consistent nap schedule. While it’s impossible to perfectly stick to a nap schedule all the time (things happen), consistency and structure help your child develop a healthy sleep rhythm and train your child on what to expect every day.
Leave room for choices. Give your toddler options during bedtime. Let them choose which temperature-appropriate pajamas to wear or which book to read. Let them do something they’re capable of, such as close the curtains or turn off the light. This helps them feel empowered with choices while getting ready for bed.
Maintain a wind-down routine. Sleep is impacted by how we wind down before bed. Kids sleep better when their wind-down routine signals calm and relaxation at the end of the day. This can include dim lights, bathtime, read and cuddle time, and lights out.
At Bloom, we understand some families struggle with early sleep habits. But there is hope: you can learn how to help your child fall asleep.For more supportive resources on sleep, behavior, and parenting, join the Bloom community today.