After my son went through the infamous “four month sleep regression,” he started waking up every two hours. My husband and I were losing our minds we were so exhausted. A friend of ours told us about this amazing sleep doctor, who ran a sleep lab at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital during the day, but advised parents on their sleep issues at night.
So we called Erin Evans, desperate, yet a little skeptical. But she was incredibly warm, empathetic (she’s a mom of two young children herself, and excited to customize a sleeping solution for our unique needs. (She believes strongly that there are a variety of approaches to getting families to sleep better.) Within a couple weeks, we had dramatically cut down on the number of night wakings, and did it without too many tears (neither mine, nor my baby’s!).
So, of course, once I launched Mamajamas, I couldn’t wait to ask Erin to share some of her secret sleep knowledge with Mamajamas members.
What she told me was even more fascinating than I would have expected! She gave me so much amazing information, that I have decided to break up her advice into two separate posts. In this first one, we’ll discuss the optimal environment for babies to sleep and products she loves, and in the next piece, we’ll talk about what mainstream, popular products are actually detrimental for good sleep.
In the meantime, you can see all of Erin’s recommendations (as well as products to stay away from) on her Mamajamas list.
Erin starts by setting the stage for optimal sleep. She says the best sleep environment for a baby is cool, dark and quiet and consistent.
For maintaining darkness, Erin recommends the following:
The biological clock (or circadian rhythm) is reset each day by light exposure. This means that at 5:00 AM sunrise that illuminates a child’s room will cause the biological clock to synchronize with a 5:00 AM wake time. This may work for some families, but I’m sure most would prefer to start the day a little later. In order to prevent early wake-ups from happening, I would recommend purchasing black out shades that completely block out light.
Erin has tried many black out shades, and her favorite are Redi Shade Black Out Shades. They cost less than $10 a piece and you can cut them to fit your window.
To maintain a quiet environment for your baby, Erin recommends:
Get a continuous white noise machine that doesn’t turn off during the night. Many parents think that white noise is meant to induce sleep, but that’s not really the reason to use white noise. Sleep changes throughout the night and sleep becomes very light in the early morning hours. This means that a tiny creak could wake a baby at 4:00 AM. If you have a continuous white noise machine on all night, then your baby will be much less likely to wake from random noises that may happen when sleep is lightest. There are many options on the market, but I recommend using a white noise machine that plays a continuous shhhhhh. Anything that changes in pitch or volume could actually cause a night waking.
For a good white noise machine, Erin points to HoMedics Sound Spa Relaxation Machine.
To keep the temperature of the room cool and consistent:
Newborns typically have a strong startle reflex that leads to night waking. In order to protect against a startle reflex induced waking I recommend using a lightweight swaddle blanket until your baby starts rolling. Swaddles also somewhat mimic the sensation of being held, which is probably why swaddled babies tend to sleep for longer stretches than unswaddled babies. It’s important to choose a lightweight option in order to prevent overheating.
And finally, despite her recommendations, Erin is quick to point out that you actually don’t need too many gadgets to help your child sleep:
You need less than you think you need for your child’s sleep. When choosing sleep products begin with simple items that will allow your child to sleep in an optimal environment. As you get to know your baby, and figure out your parenting style, then you can purchase other products that suit your individual needs.