How To Create The Best Sleep Environment For Babies and Kids

Table of Contents

A simple way to help your child fall asleep quickly and easily each night is to pay attention to your child’s sleep environment. Small changes can make a significant difference in the quality of sleep your child gets each night. Do a quick inventory of your child’s sleep space: how does it do in each of the following areas?

Your Rockin’ Blinks Cheat Sheet:

  • The bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark
  • Keep the room free from distractions
  • No electronics in the room
  • Use the crib or bed for sleep only

What characteristics should the perfect sleep environment have for infants?

  • Cool Bedroom: maintain optimum temperature

One way that our bodies prepare for sleep is by cooling down. A drop in body temperature slows metabolism, reduces alertness, and enables sleep to come more easily. Body temperature changes throughout the day, hitting its highest point an hour or two before a child’s normal bedtime, dropping quickly once the child is asleep, and staying low until an hour or two before a child wakes for the morning.

Room temperatures that are too warm are associated with an increased risk of SIDS in infants. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid overdressing their infant since it can be difficult for a baby who is too warm to wake appropriately.

A reasonable temperature range for infants is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit (20-22 Celsius). The room can be slightly cooler for older children who are able to stay covered safely. The cooler room allows for deeper, less fragmented sleep.

  • Quiet Bedroom

Our brains never stop listening, even in our deepest sleep. What we respond to changes throughout the different stages of sleep though. In light stage 2 sleep, environmental noises prompt the brain to produce what is called a sleep spindle: a short burst of brain activity. These sleep spindles disappear during deep sleep, but whether in deep, light or dream sleep, the brain appears to evaluate the emotional value of the noise going on. If it’s a noise that signals something meaningful to the sleeper, the person is more likely to wake rather than to continue sleeping.

Because of this relationship a sleeping person has to the noise around them, many sleep professionals will recommend using white noise to block sounds from waking a child unnecessarily. The current recommendation is for noise machines not to exceed 50dB, or about the noise level of a bathroom shower.

  • Dark Bedroom

Overwhelming evidence shows that artificial light at night has a negative effect on sleep. Light increases alertness and delays when the body begins to produce the hormone melatonin that signals when to sleep. Artificial light in the hours prior to bedtime can powerfully delay when children begin to feel sleepy.

Light in the bedroom is connected to a longer time to fall asleep and more disrupted sleep. The striking thing about artificial light though is that it doesn’t just interfere with sleep: it disrupts numerous other rhythms within the body that rely on the light/dark cycle for appropriate timing. This means that even low levels of light at night are associated with depression, weight gain, and insulin resistance.

  • Distraction Free

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings remarked that the company’s biggest threat was not Amazon or Disney+… it was sleep. That pesky need for our bodies to tune out for a third of our lives gets in the way of more television binging.

Conversely, captivated attention is the biggest threat to our sleep. As long as our focus is drawn outward, it’s difficult to be attuned to what’s happening internally as biological processes urge us to get the sleep we need.

For your child, the urge to sleep is much stronger than it is in adults, particularly at night. But when the sleep drive is lighter, such as toward early morning or in the afternoon when you’re trying to get your child to settle for a nap, anything interesting in your child’s sleep environment can cause them to forfeit sleep. Keep the bedroom as simple and boring as possible. And remember: the most enticing thing to your child is you.

  • No Electronics

Since anything that keeps our attention robs us of drifting off to sleep, it should come as no surprise that any kind of electronic device in the bedroom is associated with less sleep at night and poorer quality sleep.

What may be news to parents is that even when they are turned off, having a television or phone in the bedroom is linked to later bedtimes and 30 minutes less sleep every night.

Reduced sleep, particularly during the critical early years of brain development, is consistently associated with later problems in life, including poorer school performance, increased attention, and behavioral problems, and a clear connection to weight gain.

  • Keep the Crib/Bed for Sleep Only

It may be tempting to keep your newly mobile little one out of mischief by putting them in the crib with a few toys for a little while. Toddlers might find themselves sent to their beds for time-out. But it’s important to remember that sleep is not a voluntary activity. You don’t control when you fall asleep: it’s up to your body to do that.

The way we help sleep come quickly and easily is by making it something that feels automatic. When you come to a red traffic light, you don’t have to think about what to do: you just come to a stop. This happens automatically because every time you come to a red light, you follow the same routine of stopping. But if the signal to stop was a red light in some towns and a blue or purple light in others, the action of stopping wouldn’t be automatic: you would need to think about it.

The same is true of your child’s need for a sleep space that is used for sleep only. You can encourage a positive feeling toward sleep by having a short goodnight phrase that you use when you put your child to bed, like, “Good night, sleep tight,” or even a simple lullaby. My personal favorite is to remind my children, “It’s going to feel good to sleep. Night night.”

  • Create a Safety Sleep environment

While you’re making your child’s sleep area as inviting as possible for sleep, it’s also wise to pay special attention to keeping it as safe as possible. Infants 12 months and younger should follow the ABCs of safe sleep: alone (their own sleep surface), back (place baby on his/her back every time), and in a crib (a firm, flat surface, with no loose blankets, toys, crib bumpers, or other items that could pose a suffocation hazard).

Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair or place them to sleep there: this is extremely dangerous for infants.

Make sure loose cords or wires are out of reach for a mobile child, and that furniture is secured so that a curious youngster trying to climb on it cannot have it tip and fall.

With your child’s sleep environment made safe and conducive to sleeping well, you’ll all get the best rest you need to be the best you can be.

[learn_more caption=\”References\”]

[1]Wright, K. P., Hull, J. T., & Czeisler, C. A. (2002). Relationship between alertness, performance, and body temperature in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 283(6), R1370–R1377.

[2] Joseph, D., Chong, N. W., Shanks, M. E., Rosato, E., Taub, N. A., Petersen, S. A., … Wailoo, M. (2015). Getting rhythm: How do babies do it? Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 100(1), F50–F54.

[3] Franco, P., Scaillet, S., Valente, F., Chabanski, S., Groswasser, J., & Kahn, A. (2001). Ambient temperature is associated with changes in infants’ arousability from sleep. Sleep, 24 (3), 325–329.

[4] American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). AAP POLICY STATEMENT: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment TASK FORCE ON SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME. In Pediatrics (Vol. 138).

[5] Naitoh, P., Antony-Baas, V., Muzet, A., & Ehrhart, J. (1982). Dynamic Relation of Sleep Spindles and K-Complexes to Spontaneous Phasic Arousal in Sleeping Human Subjects. Sleep, 5(1), 58–72.

[6] Portas, C. M., Krakow, K., Allen, P., Josephs, O., Armony, J. L., & Frith, C. D. (2000). Auditory Processing across the Sleep-Wake Cycle: Simultaneous EEG and fMRI Monitoring in Humans. Neuron, 28(3), 991–999.

[7] Hugh, S. C., Wolter, N. E., Propst, E. J., Gordon, K. A., Cushing, S. L., & Papsin, B. C. (2014). Infant Sleep Machines and Hazardous Sound Pressure Levels. Pediatrics, 133(4), 677 LP – 681.


Good sleep is essential for a happy healthy childhood and life. Book a consultation with us now!

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