It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that babies easily fall asleep during a car ride. Parents everywhere, knowing this, often resort to driving around for the simple purpose of getting their newborn babies to fall asleep. According to a study in the United Kingdom, new parents drove their babies an average of 1,322 miles every year, in an effort to get them to sleep. Dads clocked an average of 1,827 miles a year, and about half of the parents surveyed said they took their babies for a drive at least once during the week. Parents, driven crazy by babies they struggle to put to bed, drive their babies to sleep. The question is, why does driving do such a good job at putting your children to sleep?
According to scientists, the soft, gentle purring of the car, and its gentle swaying, remind babies of their mother’s womb. The womb is a safe space for babies, where they grow and develop before they are ready to emerge into the world, and in that space, they are constantly being gently swayed in an environment of white noise much like a muffled sound or the purring of a car.
Oddly, this is true even of many adults, for whom the thrumming of a car’s engine is enough to make them feel sleepy. Yet, after a year, babies are less likely to feel sleepy in cars simply because it mimics the environment they are most accustomed to. Indeed, research shows that many strategies that rely on mimicking the womb’s environment, such as carrying, rocking and pacing, decline in effectiveness after the first three months of a baby’s life.
Even within those first three months to a year, the car is not a slam dunk in terms of getting your baby to sleep. Your baby may be restless because it has wet itself, or is hungry, or some such reason, and mimicking the womb will not clean it up or feed it. Also, because car rides separate babies from their parents and caregivers, they may become distressed rather than calmed by being in a car. In many instances, babies feel very distressed by being separated from their caregivers. Babies need to be reassured by the close presence of a caregiver. In fact, a baby’s temperature and heart rate are regulated by the gentle touch of a caregiver.
Babies can also become distressed by how the car is being driven. A stop-start, jerking driving can make it hard for a baby to feel safe, at which point they may start crying and given that studies show that crying babies are a distraction to drivers and lead to accidents, you had better give up your quest before things get worse. One thing you can do to make the baby feel safer, is to install Nuna strollers and car seats as well as mirrors that allow you to keep an eye on your baby while often also allowing the baby to see your face. If you can create a safe and comfortable environment for your baby, odds are, they will fall asleep.