The area of infant sleep is somewhat controversial. Some advocate letting babies “cry it out,” while others believe in meeting baby’s needs around the clock. Still others support co-sleeping, while the crib camp points to the advantages of baby having his or her own room.
Following are some tips for helping your baby sleep. None of these tips is intended to advocate or promote a particular parenting style or school of thought; these are tips that are applicable to all sorts of parenting approaches. Here are some ideas.
For young babies, especially newborns, the lights, open space, and cold (relative to the womb) temperatures can be overwhelming. Swaddling, or wrapping your baby closely in blankets, can go a long way to helping baby feel secure enough to sleep.
If you have trouble with swaddling, or it does not seem to be working, try wrapping baby more closely. Remember how tight he or she was in the womb just days or weeks before! It sometimes surprises parents how closely baby needs to be swaddled to feel comfortable. Of course, you should never tie or fasten anything tightly around your baby.
Fans or white noise devices can be very helpful for promoting baby’s sleep. Some parents use an air purifier, or even a radio set on static. Pretty much anything that makes a steady hum and does not pose any risk to baby’s safety will work.
Despite what some sleep trainers claim, you are better suited to make adjustments to your baby’s lifestyle than your baby is to yours. There may be something small that you could do that may make a big difference. For example:
* Baby does not have to sleep in a crib or bed right off the bat. As long as it’s safe, there’s no “wrong” place for a baby to sleep. If baby sleeps well on a blanket on the living room floor, great!
* Try varying how you put baby to sleep. Some experts note that this keeps baby from expecting a particular action – rocking, singing, nursing – in order to fall asleep and fall back asleep. So it’s recommended that you vary your methods for putting baby to sleep.
If babies do not get a lot of cuddling, interaction, touch, and a certain amount of peace and quiet, they may look to have those needs met at night. Try to satisfy your baby’s needs for closeness and touch during the day, and you may find that he or she rests more peacefully at night.
It’s easy to point to your schedule as the reason why you can’t get enough sleep. By the time you get a free moment it’s bedtime, and you really don’t want to go to bed just yet; you need some down time. Then you stay up too late and the cycle continues.
There are all sorts of other reasons, too, for not getting enough sleep. Maybe you have a spouse who snores, or you just have trouble sleeping once you do get to bed (insomnia). Whatever the reason, it’s important to make time and create the right environment for getting enough sleep. Here are some tips on how to do that.
Remember how your parents pestered you about bedtime? They had a point. Instead of looking at the ever-later clock each night, knowing you “really should” get to bed, set a bedtime and stick with it. Most experts agree that you should go to sleep before midnight, preferably before 11pm.
If this isn’t possible, be realistic and set a bedtime when you know you can get it, even if it’s midnight or 12:30am. Then be sure you get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep.
Another note about bedtime – if it’s too early, that can cause problems too, experts note. If you find yourself fading to sleep at 7 or 8pm, you may find that you wake up in the small hours after only 5 or 6 hours’ sleep, and you can’t get back to sleep.
You may have a set-up in your bedroom that is not conducive to sleep. Here are some things to look for and adjust in your bedroom to make it more sleep-promoting.
* Dark and cool is the rule for a sleepy bedroom. Darkness is important for a proper night’s sleep – lights from neighbors’ homes, screens (including the TV or computer screen), lamps, and so forth can disturb your sleep patterns.
Cooler temperatures are said to promote sleep. A higher body temperature may actually stimulate the body and prevent sleep, but cool temperatures help promote a comfortable night’s sleep.
* Your bed is for sleeping, not working. If you’re in the habit of working on bills, office work, etc. while sitting on or in bed, you might be inadvertently training your brain to be stimulated when you are in your bed. Also, it’s harder to walk away from work worries if you literally take them to bed with you! Try to keep your work in another room, or at least away from your bed.
* Keep it quiet in your bedroom. If you have trouble in this regard, use a fan or other source of white noise at night to drown out disruptive sounds.
Do worries keep you awake? Do you have a hard time turning off your brain? Making a list may help. Write down all of those things that are bothering you or that you can’t get your mind off of, and note some practical steps you can take in the morning (or during the upcoming day or week) to work those things out.
Most of us know that a good night’s sleep is healthy; but do we really take that advice seriously? Many times, we brush aside a full night’s sleep due to our busy schedules, a need for “down time” that keeps us up, or simply life’s circumstances. But a lack of sleep can result in more than just feeling tired (which is bad enough). Medical experts warn that chronic sleep deprivation can have serious effects on your health.
Here are some health problems that may result from lack of sleep.
While not all cancer risks are affected by lack of sleep, studies have indicated that breast and colon cancer risk is greatest for those who work night shifts. Apparently, the exposure to light in the night-time hours reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is a brain chemical that helps promote healthy sleep, but it may also reduce tumors and protect against cancer as well. The less you sleep, the less melatonin your body manufactures.
Statistically, heart attacks occur more often in the early morning hours. Experts believe this may have something to do with the particular way that sleep and waking affect the cardiovascular system. Studies have shown that the health problems that often lead to heart disease – obesity, high blood pressure, etc. – are exacerbated by lack of sleep.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to be moody and irritable, which is not good for any relationship. Also, sleep problems may lead to partners sleeping separately, or resentment on the part of one or both of the partners for the problem. This kind of tension may affect any children in the family as well.
An inability to think straight or think constructively is a problem associated with sleep deprivation. You may have trouble remembering things, too, if you are not getting enough sleep.
From automobile accidents to accidents on the job, sleep deprivation has been implicated in all sorts of accidental injury situations. The brain just does not react as quickly or efficiently when you are starved of sleep, and clumsiness and mistakes are also symptoms associated with lack of sleep (and accidents).
Getting baby to sleep is a notoriously difficult problem for parents. But part of this difficulty may be a misunderstanding of how babies sleep and why. They are not born with adult sleep patterns in place!
So what sleep patterns do babies have? For one thing, babies go from deep to light sleep just like adults do; but during the light sleep phase, babies tend to wake – especially if there is a need such as hunger or cold – before entering into deep sleep again.
While it’s very important to remember that every baby is different, here are some generalized facts about baby sleep patterns according to age.
Birth to 6-8 Weeks
At birth, babies generally sleep from 16 to 18 hours a 24-hour day, waking every few hours around the clock. A newborn baby has spent its whole life inside your womb, and their entire environment has been disrupted. Babies have no frame of reference, either, and don’t understand why things have abruptly changed. Keeping this in mind can help sleep-deprived parents hang in there and not get too frustrated with their baby’s wakefulness.
8 Weeks to 6 Months
During this time, infants are just beginning to develop their own circadian rhythm. It’s still not fully developed, and sources point out that, even at 6 months, that rhythm may not be mature. During this age, 16 hours of sleep per 24 hours is still considered normal.
6 Months to 1 Year
During this stage, your baby will probably start sleeping for longer periods at a time, perhaps 4 to 6 hours at first, then up to 10 hours at the age of 1 year.
Things That May Affect Baby’s Sleep
As your baby grows, multiple factors can come into play to upset the apple cart, so to speak. Parents sometimes complain that as soon as they get a good sleep routine established, it changes. Because babies are developing rapidly, there are some things to consider that affect baby’s sleep.
* Growth spurts – These can occur at various times. In the early weeks and months, growth tends to be most intense between 7 to 10 days after birth, again around 3 weeks old, then again at 3 and 4 months old. Growth spurts may raise the need for sleep (growing babies need to conserve energy), but growing also increases the need for nutrition, which means baby will be wanting to nurse or bottle-feed more often.
* Teething – Teething can cause a lot of pain and stress for babies, making for restless sleep. Taking this into consideration, parents may be less worried about their baby’s sudden inability to sleep and restless crying.
Why It’s Important for Baby to Get Enough Sleep
It’s not just for your sake that your baby needs to sleep! As noted above, babies need sleep to grow properly. Mental alertness is vital for babies to learn and develop, and behavior can be negatively affected by lack of sleep.
Insomnia can be a very difficult and frustrating problem, and it can have a significant impact on your health. Many people fear that prescription medications or over-the-counter sleep aids are the only methods available to manage insomnia, but there are several natural treatments that can help.
Why Is Insomnia a Problem?
Is it really that big a deal when you can’t get to sleep? Experts say that if it’s a chronic problem, then yes – it can be a big deal. For one thing, insomnia can be a symptom of a serious disorder known as sleep apnea. Left untreated, insomnia is implicated in many disorders, including:
* Impaired cognitive function (particularly decision making)
* Cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, heart disease)
* Stress-related disorders
* Impaired immune function
Are There Natural Options?
There are, thankfully, quite a few natural methods for dealing with insomnia. Many people find relief in herbal remedies, lifestyle adjustments, and exercise. Once you’ve checked with your health care provider about possible medical causes for your insomnia, you might try some of these natural treatments for insomnia.
1. Herbal Remedies
Herbal teas and supplements are said to be a gentle and effective way of bringing on sleep. Herbs with a reputation for promoting sleep include the following:
* Chamomile – This is a long-held remedy for sleeplessness that is exacerbated by nervousness and anxiety. Drinking a cup of chamomile tea in the evenings before bed may be all you need – but it can have a slight diuretic effect, so drinking a cup an hour or so before bed might work better. You may also find it beneficial to drink it throughout the day, hot or cold, or mixed with other beverages.
* Valerian Root – It makes an unpleasant tea, but many people have had significant success with taking valerian root capsules. Valerian is a natural sedative.
* Lemon Balm – In contrast to valerian, lemon balm tastes very good and makes a lemony tea. Like chamomile, drinking a cup in the evenings may help promote sleep. You could mix it with chamomile tea as well.
2. Lifestyle Changes
Insomnia can sometimes be managed by making adjustments to your lifestyle. Here are some ideas.
* Exercise regularly. This is one of the best ways to get your body into balance and help you relax at night.
* Cut out caffeine, even if you think you need it every day.
* If you smoke, quit – smokers tend to have more sleep problems than non-smokers, sources report.
* Cut back on sugar, artificial colors, preservatives, and artificial flavors. These substances have been implicated in hyperactivity and other mood and mental imbalances.
The various connections between what you eat and how you sleep are gaining attention. Research is showing that what you eat or don’t eat can, in fact, affect your sleep. Here are some ideas as to how food affects your sleep, and what foods should be eaten or avoided to get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep and Weight Gain
Multiple studies have shown that getting adequate, quality sleep may contribute to weight loss, and that not getting enough sleep may contribute to weight gain.
Interestingly, eating less did not help offset the weight gain associated with lack of sleep, according to a large-scale, long-term study on sleep and weight gain. This may be because lack of sleep may affect your metabolism, and when you don’t get enough sleep, you produce the stress hormone cortisol, which is said to make you feel hungry.
Eating chocolate, sugar, refined grains, or drinking caffeine during the day and into the evening can have a stimulative effect that goes well into the night. For some people, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives can disturb sleep. In addition, experts recommend that you also avoid the following foods, particularly in the evenings and/or right before bed:
* Alcohol – Ironically, alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns and make for poor sleep quality. Its diuretic effect (particularly beer) can also disrupt sleep.
* Excessively salty foods – As the kidneys work to rid your body of the excess salt, you will probably find yourself getting up to go to the bathroom during the night.
* Tea, coffee, or cola – The caffeine these drinks contain is not only a stimulant to your nervous system; it’s been said to stimulate the kidneys, too.
* Spicy and/or greasy, fried foods – These may cause heartburn.
What Should You Eat?
* Magnesium-containing foods, such as almonds, seeds, black beans, salmon, dark leafy greens and most whole grains are helpful (although if beans give you uncomfortable gas, they should probably be avoided). Magnesium is crucial to muscle and nerve function, particularly muscle relaxation.
* Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates may also promote sleep, as they are said to stimulate serotonin in the brain.
* Plain, low-fat yogurt with raw honey makes a good bedtime snack. Raw honey is actually purported to promote sleep and even weight loss, while yogurt contains calcium, which is also important to muscle relaxation. Calcium also helps with melatonin production in the body.
* Low-fat cheese can also help promote sleep. Whole grain pasta with a little Parmesan, for example, may be a good night-time meal.
Exercise can indeed affect your sleep, and not always for the better. How, when, and where you exercise all have an impact on your sleep quality.
Can Exercise Improve Sleep?
Yes, exercise can improve the quality of your sleep. In fact, many experts point to this basic lifestyle adjustment as being key to sleep improvement. However, sources point out that how and when you exercise makes a difference in how positively and how much your exercise will affect your sleep.
Generally speaking, exercise in the mid to late afternoon is ideal. For one thing, it gets you past the sleepy time in the afternoon when taking a nap (if possible) can result in your not feeling sleepy at bedtime. Late afternoon exercise gets your body heat up and your circulation going, and as your body temperature cools, it seems to get the body ready for sleep.
If you eat dinner early, exercising after dinner may work for you – but giving your body at least four hours of cool down time is said to be best.
A vigorous workout in the evening shortly before bed means you are trying to sleep with a raised body temperature, and studies have shown that a cooling body temperature is most conducive to sleep.
If morning is the only time you have to exercise, of course that is better than no exercise at all. Because exercise is good for the body overall, all body systems from circulation to muscle tone are improved, and keeping your body systems in top shape ultimately promotes a good night’s sleep.
Exercise also relieves tension. A 2008 study pointed out the relaxing benefits of exercise and the subsequent benefits of better sleep.
What Kind of Exercise Is Best?
For the most effective sleep promotion, most experts agree that cardiovascular exercise is best. A vigorous cardio workout that lasts at least 20 minutes is sufficient to raise body temperature, get your heart pumping, and enhance circulation. Examples of cardiovascular exercises you can do at home or nearby include:
* Walking (vigorous, fast walking)
* Jumping rope
* Bike riding
The key is to make the exercise continual and vigorous. This is why exercises like Yoga and lifting weights, while valuable and valid types of exercise, are not necessarily the best choices for sleep-promoting cardiovascular exercise.
Yoga and other meditative, stretching exercises may be helpful before bed, however, to relieve tension without raising the body temperature too much. In fact, some experts say that stretching periodically throughout the day may be of benefit. Muscle tension is kept at bay and is less likely to “take hold” and cause tension and pain this way.