Yep, you read that title right! Stay with me…
If you’ve done some research on baby and child sleep, you’ve likely heard the term “sleep prop”; a sleep prop is anything your child needs outside of themselves in order to fall and stay asleep. The most common sleep props are nursing/bottle feeding, rocking, patting, singing, bouncing, pacifiers, and the presence of a parent (sitting in the room, laying with the child, co-sleeping, etc.).
The above sleep props can certainly be helpful in getting a baby or older child to fall asleep, however they can also make it challenging for little ones to sleep through the night, as they will wake up looking for that same prop to help them get back to sleep (read more about that here!).
But did you know there are also some sleep props that are really helpful? And that I actually recommend to most families?
Here are 5 sleep props that can aide in great sleep:
One item I suggest all parents put on their baby registry is a sound machine!
For newborns, white noise is actually a comforting sound, as it’s similar to what babies hear when they’re in the womb. Beyond newborn world, however, white noise is a really helpful tool to help our kids stay asleep while we’re still moving about! You don’t have to fear putting dishes away, or running the laundry, or having friends over, because the white noise will help drown out the extra sounds.
So turn that white noise on at the beginning of the night and leave it running all night long!
Side note: Don’t use music! You can certainly have music playing while your child is in the bath, or as you get jammies on, if you’d like, however having music on while your child falls and stays asleep can actually cause them to remain in a lighter sleep, because their brain focuses more on the inconsistencies of the music.
(The Dohm sound machine is a favorite across many families I work with as it’s a natural fan sound rather than an electronic white noise. We also like this sound machine, as it also has batteries so we can bring it in the car with us, or it will keep running if the power happens to cut out at night.)
Take a moment and picture your room, or your child’s room. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being “I can’t see my hand in front of my face”, how dark is the room at noon? How about midnight?
Did you know that when I’m working with families, we aim for kids’ rooms to be a 10, for both naps and night time? Not only does total darkness reduce the number of distractions a child has while falling asleep, but it can help avoid short naps and early morning wakings, as well. It provides a much more restful night of sleep for adults, too!
People often ask me if making their child’s room totally dark will make them a “sleep diva” or a “sleep monster,” because they can’t sleep without total darkness. Will it be more challenging for your child to sleep in an environment that’s not totally dark?
It could be! But one, there are some simple and effective travel hacks that allow your child’s temporary sleep environment to be totally dark (i.e. SlumberPod or foil and painter’s tape!), so you can still achieve darkness while away.
Two, if for whatever reason you have a few off days and nights because your child’s sleeping environment isn’t dark enough, you can always get back on track when you get home! I’d much rather know my girls’ sleep will be GREAT while we’re home, and potentially off the 2ish weeks a year we’re traveling, rather than know that all 365 days a year it’s just okay.
You should know that one of my biggest pet peeves as a sleep consultant is that very few “blackout curtains” actually blackout a room, so if you’re looking for some good blackout solutions, head here!
(If your child has expressed a fear of the dark, which might happen around the age of 2 or 3, it’s okay to have a nightlight on! I always suggest a red or orange light, as they are far less harsh than a white or blue light, but you still want those windows blacked out so the sunlight doesn’t start creeping in early in the morning and cause an earlier waking than necessary. The Hatch Rest is a great toddler clock that can be set to orange or red.)
Because newborns are born with a strong startle reflex, swaddles are a really important tool those first several weeks of life to help them (and you!) get more restful sleep. Some babies seem to be little escape artists when it comes to certain swaddles, and some babies seem to fight the swaddle, but I encourage you to keep with it!
Sometimes one brand works well for one baby but another little one prefers a different type, and that’s okay. See if your friends have a different kind of swaddle and borrow it for a bit to see if it will work for your baby!
A Sleep Sack
I LOVE sleep sacks. My girls are currently 1 and 3 and I don’t think either have ever gone a night without their sleep sack (or swaddle). Because I don’t want to worry about my girls being cold at night, sleep sacks have been a great fit for us. They are also a helpful piece of the nap and bedtime routine to give them another cue that sleep is coming.
For my 3 year old, it seems as though her sleep sack also acts as a comfort item for her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tries sleeping with her sleep sack once she outgrows it!
(Note that sleep sacks are certainly not required in order for babies to be great sleepers, but they can be a very helpful tool.)
It is not safe for babies to have anything loose in their crib until they’re 12 months old, but once your babe turns one, you can introduce a lovey to sleep situations!
Similar to sleep sacks, lovies are not required for great sleepers (my 3 year old never attached to anything!), but they can be helpful for kids who sleep at daycare, while you’re traveling, or for kids who struggle with separation anxiety, because they are a constant your child has with them.
Do you notice a similar strand among each of these positive sleep props? They don’t require the parent beyond bedtime! Once the lights are out and the curtains are closed, the room is dark. Once you press the power button on the sound machine, it’s on all night. Once the sleep sack is zipped and buttoned, it’s on all night.
So while your child will experience natural wakings throughout the night, as we all do, her environment will be the same as when she originally fell asleep, allowing for a quick and smooth transition back to sleep. And you likely won’t even know it’s happening!
p.s. If in reading this you recognize that your little one also relies on sleep props that require your help in the night and you’d like some help teaching her independent sleep skills, let’s chat!
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