Creating the perfect sleep environment doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, babies only need a few conditions to sleep their best. I recommend these tools whenever I work with parents one on one to sleep train their baby. But these are tools you can begin to use from the first day home from the hospital and continue to use for many years.
The environment your baby sleeps in can make a huge difference in how he sleeps. Why do you think as adults we almost always sleep better in our own beds? Most likely you have created a space that is conducive to sleep, and your body nows prefer that specific environment. Your baby is no different. If you create the right environment for sleeping he will have what he needs to sleep his best, assuming he has already been sleep trained!
First up on the list is a dark room. This is so important for naps and appropriate bedtimes and wake times in the summer when the sun can keep your little one awake or wake them up earlier than normal. Not only does darkness tell your body when to produce melatonin, which tells your body when to sleep, but who isn't soothed when the lights are turned down?
Blackout curtains are a great way to achieve a darker room, but if expenses are a concern you could always opt for tin foil and painter's tape to cover your windows. In fact, tin foil will give you the greatest coverage from the sun.
I also encourage the families I work with to cover any lights in the room (think monitor lights, or green lights on the humidifier, etc.) with electrical tape. Most lights streaming off of these devices are blue lights. Blue lights send the message to your brain that it is not time to sleep, not the message we want to send.
Many parents feel that white noise is unnecessary because they report that when their baby falls asleep he sleeps so deep almost nothing will wake him up. And they are right! Newborns almost always sleep in a very deep sleep, until about 4 months when their sleep cycles change to look more like adults. Babies and toddlers still tend to have their deepest sleep at the beginning of the night, it lasts around 3-4 hours. This is why your toddler or baby will often wake right as you are crawling in bed for the night. The transition from the deepest sleep cycle into a lighter one is not always an easy transition. White noise is vital for sleep cycle transitions as well as helping a child sleep in longer in the early morning hours when they are in the absolute lightest sleep cycle.
I suggest using white noise that is fairly loud, boring, and plays from the time you lay your child down until he wakes up in the morning. While many parents buy a noise machine, other will just use a simple fan. Both work great.Here is my favorite noise machine. It has an actual fan on the inside and I find the noise to be the most soothing.
The AAP recommends that babies be put to bed on their back, on a flat surface (either in a crib or Pac 'n play) with no blankets, bumpers, or items with in the bed with them. There are many products on the market that are designed to keep your baby safe and warm. Consider using a Zipadee Zip, sleep sack, or another item where the blanket is secured on the baby and away from the face.
The AAP also recommends that babies sleep in their parents room until at least 6 months but up to a year. While sleep training is possible once a baby is 4 months old from the due date, it is about a billion times harder to sleep train in the same room as the parents. My clients all receive their pediatrician's approval to sleep train and move the baby into his own room.
While a comfort item is not a necessity while sleep training, many parents like to offer their child something to draw comfort from while they sleep. Personally, I have one child who doesn't have a comfort item and two that do. I prefer a comfort item. Having an item that can soothe and provide comfort will help a child learn how to regulate emotions and will provide benefits throughout life.
The AAP does not recommend any objects in the crib with a baby. I