I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Start as you mean to go on.” It means to start something (a behavior, new habit, process, system, etc) the way you intend it to go in the future. This saying has many implications regarding baby sleep, but I want to focus on one area in particular: the sleep environment.
What is a sleep environment?
The sleep environment consists of all the elements of your sleeping space. This could be the noise in the room, the light, the temperature, the decor, the type of bedding, who is in the room, and the position of the door (open or closed).
The older your kiddo gets, likely the more specific your kiddos are about what their environment looks and feels like. They may want 3 night lights, 2 blankets, the right music playing, the door 6.8 inches open, and you lying in their bed next to them. This is THEIR ideal sleep environment and they happily drift off to sleep at bedtime, feeling safe and secure in their surroundings because everything is as they expect it to be.
A Sleep Science Refresher
After 4 months of age, your brain transfers through 4 distinct sleep stages all through the night. As your body completes one sleep cycle and starts into the next, you may either partially or fully awaken. It is actually perfectly normal for all people (babies, kids, and adults) to wake 4-6 times per night! What differentiates some babies from others is what they do when they wake. Do they call for mom or dad? Do they need a snuggle? Do they need a bottle or pacifier? Do they want you to come into their bed? Do they come into yours? Or do they quickly fall back asleep on their own? What determines how your kiddo will respond?
Enter: The Sleep Environment
The conditions of your child’s room at bedtime compared to the condition of your child’s room during the nighttime wakeup will play a large role in determining if your child calls out to you or just rolls over and goes back to sleep. If the sleep environment at bedtime is the EXACT SAME as it is when they wake up during the night your kiddo will be more likely to just go right back to sleep because everything feels normal to them.
Stop being sneaky
However, many parents actually change the environment after their kiddo falls asleep. Sometimes you are so desperate to just get your kiddo to SLEEP that you’ll agree to anything at bedtime so that they’ll go to sleep. This may mean extra lights on, specific music playing, a door wide open (even if you want it closed), curtains pulled, pets in the bed, YOU in bed with them, etc. However, once your kiddo is asleep, many parents end up changing things. They may turn off the lights, stop the music, pull the curtains, close the door, and leave the room.
This may seem harmless enough as your kiddo is asleep, but remember, your child will wake up again! When they fall asleep one way, then wake up and see the room looks and feels totally different, it can be shocking to them. Instead of just rolling over and going back to sleep, they may call for you, turn the lights on, open the door, leave the room, etc.
“Start as you mean to go” is about room environment too
The best way to stop the ‘shock’ and help your child not to be alarmed at the changes to their room environment is to simply start your kiddo’s night with the room the way it will be overnight.
- Lights that don’t change
- Sounds that don’t change
- People/Pets that don’t change
- The door position doesn’t change
Obviously, this is easier said than done and WILL take some getting used to on your child’s part. Talk together before bedtime about what night light will stay on in the room, how the curtains will be, how the door will look, etc. then stick to it. It helps to include your child in the decision-making (“Of these two night lights, which one would you like to keep on?”). Once you’ve come up with a plan together, stick to it! No changing things just because your kiddo says so 🙂
Now when your kiddo (naturally) wakes throughout the night, it will be easier for them to simply go back to sleep because everything will be as it was when they went to bed. Nothing is scary, shocking, or different.
If this seems impossible to you or your child is still needing you during the night, that’s what I’m here for. We will work together to get your kiddo back on track!