The Importance of Your Sleeping Environment

The Importance of Your Sleeping Environment

A restful night’s sleep forms the foundation for your next day’s activities. There is much you can do to create an environment that encourages relaxation and provides better sleep. These tips can be used for your own bedroom sanctuary, as well as those of your children. Many of us know that when our kids get better sleep, it can improve their outlook and attention span both at home and at school.


            °  Creating Your Bedroom Sanctuary

The better one sleeps, the more it adds to the quality of life and health. It’s time to think of your bedroom as a rejuvenative spa and soothing oasis created just for you. Review what does and doesn’t work in your current bedroom with an objective eye, as if you were a designer hired to provide your client (you) with an ideal sleep sanctuary. Use your senses to evaluate what’s working and what could use an upgrade. Make a list based on what your senses tell you needs to stay or go.


SIGHT: Eliminating clutter and adding soothing colors do wonders for making you feel cozy and comfortable. With just a few decorative touches and some paint, you can turn any bedroom into an island getaway, a Mediterranean villa, a mountaintop retreat or theme room for a child. 


TOUCH: When you crawl into bed at night, does your bedding give you that ‘ah-h-hhhh’ feeling? Blankets and sheets provide warmth and comfort, and allow you to feel soothed and nurtured. There are many innovative fabrics available to choose —from luxurious feeling faux-fur comforters to organic cotton sheets and cost-effective downy textiles —so have fun picking the right one for you.


SOUND: Noise can create clutter too. Earplugs, fans and white noise machines are your first line of defense against noise. Keep your television in the family room and not the bedroom. In doing so, you can eliminate a major source of sound clutter. Loud music gets the axe too, but soothing music can actually aid in relaxation and facilitate better sleep. Control as much indoor noise as you can: fix leaky faucets, repair noisy pipes, and consider keeping your bedroom door closed to the rest of the house. For noise outside the home, 90% of it enters through your doors and windows. To reduce the annoyance from cars, neighbors, airplanes, and barking dogs, perhaps an investment in triple-pane windows might be wise. These can cut the external noise level by 50-90%.


PLEASANT AROMA: It has been said that the sense of smell never sleeps. Smell is the only sense that doesn’t have to pass through our thalamus, which closes when we sleep.  A team of German scientists at the University Hospital Manheim did a study that exposed slumbering volunteers to various scents, to see if it influenced their sleep or dreams. Those who had the smell of roses pervading their sleep environment reported experiencing pleasant emotions in their dreams, while the odor of rotten eggs had the opposite effect.

There are many ways to add pleasant scents to your sleep sanctuary. There are many herbal and floral room sprays, oil diffusers, and aromatherapy products to choose from. Vanilla is comforting, while jasmine, rose and lavender are relaxing scents to surround yourself with. Be sure to choose one that’s pleasing and not overpowering, which can have the opposite effect on you. 


            °  Get Your Child to Sleep Better
Kids are restless by nature, and can be difficult to get to sleep. This may not indicate a sleep disorder if they are alert during the day and getting rest at night. For grade school children, 9-12 hours of sleep per night is recommended. Tips for helping your child fall asleep include establishing a regular wake-up and bedtime schedule, keeping their room cool and quiet, eliminating TV and electronics from the bedroom, and never give them caffeine beverages. Also, be careful not to make “going to bed” a punishment for children who misbehave. They’ll associate bedtime with being bad and may rebel on a nightly basis. 

Here’s a few other quick tips for children and sleep:
- When is naptime? Little ones that nap too much during the day can cause frustration at night for their parents. While daytime naps for toddlers can give a parent much-needed free time, it can also reduce the amount of sleep at night. With the exception of infants, naps are generally no more than one hour in duration. A 1 year old averages 2.5 naps a day, and that tapers off until age 4, with zero naps, but a longer nighttime sleep.
- When is bedtime? The amount of sleep each child needs is as unique as their personality. In general, if a child can fall asleep within 30 minutes of bedtime, awakens easily without nagging, and can stay awake during the day, they’re probably getting the proper amount of sleep. Set their bedtime according to their needs, not what their friends or other parents do. Pay attention to what time your child is actually falling asleep at night. If bedtime is 7:30pm and they’re regularly falling asleep at 8:30pm and waking up refreshed, then consider changing their bedtime to one hour later. It can avoid bedtime battles and your child feels rewarded and grown up, spending an extra hour with you.
- Bedtime without battles. Just like grownups, kids need and enjoy the ritual of unwinding at bedtime. A warm bath followed by some quality time interacting with your child can go a long way to providing calm. For some families, the bedtime ritual of praying together can bring peace to the day, while for others, a bedtime chat, a story or a stuffed animal can achieve bedtime tranquility.

- Nightmares happen. If your child should wander into your room at 3am with nightmares, it can be helpful to take them back to their room, and use a flashlight to check for ‘monsters’ under the bed and in the closet, and then tuck them back in. Leave them with the flashlight or a nightlight so they feel more secure and able to fall back to sleep.

°  Better Sleep for Babies and Parents
The various stages of sleep are divided into five distinct cycles that occur every 90-100 minutes for adults: drowsiness, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, light sleep, deep sleep, and very deep sleep. With infants those cycles occur every 50-60 minutes, giving them many more opportunities to awaken in light sleep during the night. Newborns sleep as needed, regardless of the time of day or night. In fact, they can sleep as much as 20 hours a day for the first several weeks, despite other expectations new parents might have about newborn daily routines. It’s this hard-to-predict schedule of sleep/wake that gives many new parents insomnia. Adults enjoy 7-9 hours sleep a night, but for babies, ‘sleeping through the night’ is considered to be a 5-hour span of sleep.

Here’s some do’s and don’ts for parents of babies:
- No pillows. Although little pillows make a crib look cute, a baby cannot lift and turn their head the same as a child or adult can, and pillows can suffocate. They’re not recommended for children under 2 years old, and are safest to introduce when your child moves from sleeping in a crib, to a bed.
- Back to Sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy infants be placed on their backs, not stomachs. Since making this recommendation in 1992, the incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has decreased by more than 40%. Be sure to ask your pediatrician for advice on what is appropriate for your baby at bedtime.

- An obstacle-free environment.  Remember, babies can’t roll over on their own until 5-6 months old, and even then, they may not be totally capable of freeing themselves from obstacles in the crib. Things like ribbons, stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, toys and even crib bumper pads can interfere with a baby’s breathing and should not be in the crib when they sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping blankets out of your baby’s crib until they are at least 12 months old. There are many warm and cozy one-piece  ‘wearable blankets’, sleeper pajamas and sleep sacks that zip up and are safe for infants to sleep in. Discuss all options with your pediatrician and find the best and safest solution for your child.
- Bottles don’t belong in bed. It’s not advised to put a baby to bed with a bottle of formula, juice, or milk. The American Dental Association cautions against this and recommends that all feeding be done before putting a baby in the crib. A condition known as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay can develop when a child’s mouth is bathed in the sugars from milk, formula or juice. The prolonged exposure is a result of the baby falling asleep with these liquids in their mouth. If a cavity develops and the tooth or teeth need removing, it can set about a chain of events that causes crowded adult teeth. The good news is this is all preventable. Ask your dentist about proper oral hygiene for your baby and young child.

- Pacifiers at night? Some babies get comfort from sucking on a pacifier, but they should never be used as a substitute for nurturing no matter what time of day.  Use of a pacifier to go to sleep at night may make falling asleep easier for the child and, thus, the parents. But be warned, you may end up being on binky patrol when your baby wakes up crying because they lost their pacifier and need you to find it. And if your little one does rely on a pacifier to get to sleep, a stuffy nose or congestion that limits nasal breathing can make using a pacifier impossible. Be sure to discuss pacifier use with your baby’s physician and your dentist, and try to wean your child from this habit by age 4 or 5.

- The family bed. Sharing a family bed, also known as co-sleeping, can stir up heated discussions for both opponents and advocates. It’s a personal choice for families to consider and find what works best for them. Many present day cultures —and most throughout history—have a place for the family bed. Some parents feel it’s cruel and isolating to place a small child in room alone at night. Many mothers prefer breastfeeding a child in bed, saying it’s more relaxing, bonding and builds trust in the first year. This practice can raise eyebrows with critics who say it fosters a need for dependency, insecurity and separation problems. It also may lessen the privacy many parents enjoy in their bedroom sanctuary. Parents need to discuss the pro’s and con’s with each other, and take into consideration the needs of the child, not just their own. Single parents should not have a family bed just to stave off loneliness, and children should not be allowed to manipulate parents into letting them sleep in their bed because it’s easier for them to fall asleep that way. As with any issue, seeking the advice of a health professional for your specific concern is sound guidance.

- Letting your baby “cry it out”. “Crying it out” is not the same as letting your baby cry for as long as it takes to fall asleep. Rather, the ability to soothe oneself to sleep at bedtime is seen as a skill that babies older than 6 months can learn. If your baby is used to a sleep-inducing ritual, such as being rocked, they will not readily learn to fall asleep on their own. Instead, they’ll wake up as part of the natural sleep cycle, and cry for you rather than fall back asleep voluntarily. There are many books written on a method called “Crying It Out” (CIO), and while none endorse letting a baby cry for prolonged periods, most feel that tears of short duration are part of the process of developing better sleep habits for your baby. Never neglect your child, and always be sure to monitor your baby when letting them ‘cry it out’. Opponents of this method feel that babies only stop crying when they have given up hope of being comforted, and that this method creates harmful feelings of deprivation and insecurity. Always consult your physician before making a decision on baby sleep problems.

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