Thoughtful Parenting: Sleep hygiene for parents
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
It’s no secret that sleep is a common conversation topic among parents. So much so that the search phrase, “How can I help my baby sleep?” returns almost 1.5 billion results on Google.
Thankfully, there are simple things parents can do to improve their sleep quality while their children are young and waking overnight. (If you suspect your child’s sleep isn’t normal, check in with their doctor.)
Sleep hygiene refers to working with our bodies’ natural rhythms. When our sleep systems are in sync, our bodies can find sleep with relative ease. If our habits are working against them, sleep can become dysregulated.
The list below provides some sleep-enhancing tweaks. Remember, every family is unique. Cultures around the world approach sleep in many different ways. You know your family best!
Sleep Hygiene Tips
• Often, parents have heard of sleep tips for children, like minimizing screen-time before bed, bedtime routines, exercise and a healthy diet. Sometimes, we’re not quite as consistent following this advice ourselves, though. Place your own oxygen mask first.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
• A consistent wake time can help set the body’s sleep rhythms in a 24-hour cycle.
• Early morning light signals to your brain that it’s time to start the day. Try a morning stroll with your baby, or raise the shades and let the sunlight in.
• Family wind-down time: Turn lights low and choose calmer activities after dinner.
• A dose of connection: a bedtime story, gentle massage, playful recounting of the day — all can help meet your child’s need for connection and your need to wind down.
• Is your sleep environment sleep-friendly? Is it used only for rest and relaxation? Is it a comfortable temperature? Is it dark enough?
• If you clock watch, count wake-ups, or calculate sleep, it’s OK to ditch the clock. These behaviors usually only lead to further exhaustion.
• For some families, keeping baby close at night helps everyone sleep better. Room sharing has been associated with a reduction in the risk of sudden unexplained death in infancy. Always investigate the risks/benefits of sleeping arrangements with your unique family circumstances.
• Positive psychology and mindfulness. Is your mind a whir of daily stresses, worries and plans? Are you anxious about the night shift or comparing your baby’s sleep with others? Racing thoughts can delay sleep. In a vicious cycle, poor sleep then leads to further stress. Working through negative thoughts and emotions with a supportive friend or therapist can help nighttime become a more safe and relaxing experience for the whole family.
Finally, remember that your work responding to your baby’s nighttime needs is meaningful and is enriching their healthy mental, physical and emotional development. Along with learning about normal infant sleep and seeking practical support, sleep hygiene can be just one tool in your toolbox to survive and thrive during these tough early years of parenting.
Jessica De Feyter is an applied developmental psychologist, certified infant sleep educator and La Leche League leader working with parents in the Yampa Valley.
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