Should babies sleep with a night light?

Biologically speaking, the best lighting to use in your baby’s nursery is none at all. A dark room at night helps set your infant’s circadian rhythm for sleeping more at night and less during the day. Babies aren’t born being afraid of the dark so night lights are more for the convenience of parents who have to get up to feed or change diapers during the night. If you are more comfortable using a night light, a dim red light is by far the best option. The red light stimulates the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone.

Don’t overlook the harsh lighting your child is exposed to before bedtime. For example, most bathrooms are lit by harsh and bright white light. This light exposure, right before bed, can cause sleeping difficulties for your baby long after they have left the room.

Using a battery-operated, red hue waterproof lamp or battery-operated candles can make a huge difference in your child’s sleep. You can see some sleep-friendly examples here.

Baby sleeps in crib with blue night light
OndroM/Shutterstock.com

White-based or blue-based light?

Many parents are making a big mistake that is inhibiting their baby’s sleep at night and they don’t even realize it. Most babies are put to bed using a night light or light show of some description. These cute lights, however, purchased under the assumption that they will lull the child into a gentle slumber, can be keeping the little darlings awake long into the night, especially if they are left on all night. These night lights can affect sleep time by tricking the body that it is still daylight.

The wavelength of different colors of light on the human body has a tendency to inhibit our sleep. White and blue-based lights, however dim, will inhibit the secretion of melatonin in the body at night. Melatonin works in line with the sensitivity of our eyes, thereby having a huge impact on the amount of sleep a person gets — especially babies.

When there is no light, our eyes send a message to our brains to secrete melatonin, which causes feelings of drowsiness. In a world unpolluted by electric lights, the secretion of melatonin in children would likely occur at dusk. Melatonin is necessary for a baby to not only go to sleep but stay asleep for longer overnight.

Most children’s night lights utilize white, blue, or green hues. These colors are commonly considered to be soothing so manufacturers select them for their products. White- and blue-based light, which covers almost all forms of lighting used in the home, inhibits the body’s production of melatonin by tricking the brain into believing it is still daylight and that the body should stay alert. It isn’t just lighting in your baby’s bedroom that makes a difference, though. The light emitted from screens — including televisions, laptops, tablets, and smartphones — can also cause problems, no matter how appropriate and child friendly the game or program.

Soothing red light

There is one type of light, however, that doesn’t inhibit sleep: Red. Red light has a higher wavelength than the commonly used white or blue light, which research shows does not inhibit melatonin. It doesn’t so much improve sleep, it just doesn’t interfere with the chemical building blocks of it. Red light has attracted much interest in the scientific community, yet this research probably has not found its way to nursery manufacturers and retailers who continue to make products that fly in the face of sleep science.

Top tips for sleep-friendly lighting

  • No screen time for two hours before bedtime.
  • Naps should always happen in daylight. Ditch the blackout blinds for naps — they confuse the body’s biological clock and can cause trouble with nighttime sleep.
  • Light bathrooms with waterproof, battery-operated red or orange hue lights.
  • Dim lighting in living areas in the evening and close curtains and blinds at 6 p.m.
  • Use a red light bulb in a lamp in your child’s bedroom at night for their bedtime routine or to leave on overnight.
  • Tape over lights on baby monitors that are white, green, or blue.

Mother holds her baby near a crib
There are justifiable reasons for using a baby night light and good reasons to avoid artificial light. However, if you want to use a night light in your toddler’s room, just make sure it’s one that doesn’t inhibit your baby’s sleep so you don’t wind up staying awake all night. Before making your final decision, test the waters with sleep-friendly lights and see how your baby does. Then try no light and check that out, too. There is not a one size fits all when it comes to using or not using a baby night light.

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