During a child’s first few months, good sleep — for both parents and babies — can feel like an unaffordable luxury. And while the concept of sleep training gets a lot of parents nervous, it doesn’t have to be a scary thing. “Sleep training just means changing the way you manage your child’s behavior to encourage better sleep,” says Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, and the director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center. Luckily, there are practical tools to help children sleep better. We spoke to Canapari; Dr. Harvey Karp of the popular Happiest Baby book and DVD series and inventor of the SNOO smart bassinet; and Lauren Kay, deputy editor of the Bump for their recommendations on the best accessories for helping your child — and you — enjoy a good night’s sleep.
“A really good bedroom should be dark,” says Canapari. “A night-light is okay, but having the lights on is really pretty counterproductive. Limiting light coming into the room in the morning if you have a child that’s rising earlier than you would like is also very helpful.” To help with light pollution, Canapari recommends blackout shades, both to block morning light, and if you’re living in the city, lights from the street and businesses. He likes simple paper blackout shades.
Or try ones with suction cups, which are good for taking with you on vacation, according to Canapari. Kay also recommends blackout curtains to help babies distinguish between night and day, which is especially tricky during the newborn phase.
“In general I’m not a huge fan of really complicated technology,” says Canapari. “I almost feel like it’s counterproductive to know too much.” Instead of newfangled baby monitors that feature heart rate and temperature monitoring, for instance, he prefers a simple audio monitor.
“I like sound machines in rooms because they mask outside sounds,” says Canapari. His favorite (and a Strategist staple) is the Marpac: “We have two of them and they’re essentially indestructible. My older son’s one has been running nightly for 11 years without a hiccup. I think it’s probably going to outlive me. It has a nice, calming quality to it.” Kay agrees and also swears by the Dohm in her own home.
One of the three main tools that Karp uses for promoting infant sleep in his books and DVDs is swaddling, in addition to the use of white noise and motion. Swaddling gives the baby a sense of security and prevents their arms from flailing about and startling themselves awake. But there’s an art to swaddling safely and correctly: “You need the arms very securely down, but you also need the hips to be open and relaxed. You also don’t want to overheat the baby or for the blanket to get unraveled.” While you can use a regular blanket to create a swaddle, it may take a little bit more skill and practice, according to Karp. Parents and caretakers may find it easier to wrap up an infant with a specially made swaddle, like Happiest Baby’s Sleepea 5-Second Swaddle. Not only does it have an internal band that easily secures the arms, it has a quiet Velcro, vented panels, is made from organic cotton, and a zipper that unzips from the top and the bottom. And according to writer Julia McVeigh: “If you’re a sleep-deprived parent of an infant, you need the good news first: This swaddle is magic.”
Canapari recommends the Miracle Blanket, which he says is very popular with parents.
For babies older than three months that are transitioning out of the swaddle, Kay recommends Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit. “It has a nice and firm but plush exterior so it’s kind of like putting your baby in a snowsuit,” she says. “It’s a great option especially if you have a baby who really loves his or her swaddle. This is a nice way to transition from the swaddle to the Merlin and then to some sort of sleep sack.”
Speaking of sleep sacks, once babies can start to roll over, Canapari swears by the Halo Sleepsack.
“One of our smart products that we love at the Bump is the SNOO Smart Sleeper,” says Kay, the smart bassinet invented by Karp that responds to a baby’s crying by jiggling and providing white noise. “It’s basically a bassinet-style crib that does a lot of the work for you. It’s really helpful in terms of those first three months when they’re finicky and cranky, giving them that soothing, cozy nature in a bassinet, but also giving parents some of those sleep tools which can help them navigate those first few months.” Writer Christina Ladd agrees: “In our experience, the SNOO was most effective rocking Zoi to sleep after nighttime feedings. She would doze off immediately. You have no idea how grateful I was to have those extra, precious minutes of sleep for myself.” As for its considerable price tag, Ladd advises: “If you can find room in the budget — or better yet, add it to your baby registry as a potential group gift from your loved ones — you will be very, very grateful for all those bonus moments of peace.”
“Sensory-processing disorders are common in kids around ages 3 and 4 that have sleep problems,” says Canapari. A common recommendation for kids who fidget a lot or like to be held very tightly when they’re falling asleep is using a weighted blanket. But those can be expensive and too hot in warmer weather, so Canapari prefers using a lycra sheet instead, “which is like a giant sock that the mattress fits into and provides a little bit of pressure on the child.” He cautions that they should only be used for toddlers and older, because of the risk of suffocation.
“For parents that are struggling with early risers, the OK to Wake clock is a good investment,” says Canapari. If a child wakes up earlier than he’s supposed to, he can look to the clock to see if it’s okay to get out of bed. If the light is still yellow, he has to stay in bed. But once it turns green, it means he can leave. “What you want to do is set that wake time about 15 to 20 minutes after your child is waking up and see if you can move that later every few days,” suggests Canapari. “Again, you can’t control when your child wakes up, but what you can control is his behavior and what he does. I think that’s a useful cue for some kids. It doesn’t work on everybody, but it often can be helpful.”
The Philips Wake-Up Light Clock works for middle-schoolers and up, and even for parents who have a hard time getting out of bed. Simulating a sunrise, it becomes brighter and brighter starting about 30 minutes before your alarm clock goes off. “What I found with myself is that this essentially allows me to wake up before my actual alarm time and has naturally shifted the time when I fall asleep — and the time when I wake up — a little bit earlier,” Canapari says. Though it’s on the pricey side, it’s one of the best on the market (Canapari called it the Cadillac of light-up alarm clocks) and a Strategist favorite.
“Reading to your kid at night, even as they get older, is very important for their development and to help them develop a love of reading,” according to Canapari. “There’s a great book for parents on how to do this at different ages called The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. I like that book a lot. It’s got some great book suggestions too.”
“Cool mist humidifiers can be really important in the winter time,” says Karp. “If the heat is on, their mucus gets dry and their noses clog up. When babies are sleeping, they breathe through their noses, so if they’re stuffy they keep waking themselves up.” They also create a nice climate in the baby’s room, according to Kay, who recommends the Honeywell Germ-Free Cool Mist Humidifier for its UV light that kills whatever bacteria is found in the water before it comes out as mist.
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