As a sleep consultant I often get asked “Do babies sleep better in the dark?” Parents often wonder whether they really need to invest in blackout blinds or whether having the room completely dark is really all that necessary. Ever since my oldest was a baby we have had blackout curtains, not only in his bedroom but also in our own. I couldn’t survive without them myself. It wasn’t until I started studying about sleep, however, that I realized just how important they are for healthy sleep. I have even noticed that some of the children I have worked with haven’t had blackout blinds set up in their bedroom and once they do their sleep starts to improve, without even sleep training! How amazing is that? Just that shows how amazing black out blinds can be.
Between 3 and 4 months of age, melatonin starts to be produced in a baby’s brain. The production of melatonin surges at night with the aid of darkness and helps produce the feeling of drowsiness that is part of the falling asleep process. Whereas sunlight suppresses the development of melatonin. A baby’s circadian rhythm makes them go to bed each night on the early side (between 6 – 8 pm) which means they need to go to sleep when it is still light out, especially in summer. The darkness that black out blinds is going to be so important for this. For older children, blackout blinds also gives the appearance of night time. I know my kids will argue that it is not bedtime yet when the sun is streaming in at 8pm!
Children are naturally sensitive to light and any light filtering into their room can disrupt their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, especially in the early morning hours. If a baby wakes in the early morning hours and sees the light it might trigger them to remain awake, whereas if the room was completely dark they may close their eyes and return back to sleep. Many early morning wakers can learn to sleep in when their sleep environment is fixed.
You may wonder then what you do during night feedings or diaper changes overnight. This is where I suggest only putting on as little light as possible to see what you are doing and turning it off as soon as possible. If you have bright lights on it might penetrate your baby’s eye balls you can accidentally wake them fully and make it harder for them to get back to sleep after you’ve finished.
Babies and toddlers need to nap throughout the day too. Without blackout blinds to make the room very dark at nap time, they can struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep for their naps. A well-lit room also provides a lot of distractions for them, whereas a darkened room sets the stage for sleep.
You may also wonder about nightlights. Many white noise machines come with baby night lights these days. Babies do not need night lights. In fact I suggest total darkness. So dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. This level of darkness is also important for young children too, but toddlers can ask for a nightlight or you may introduce one due to fear of the dark. When this happens I suggest a dim red light because this doesn’t impact melatonin production and keeps the room relatively dark still. Other color lights – especially blue light and white light are not advised.
If you’d love some help and support with your little one’s sleep please do not hesitate to reach out. I love helping a sleep-deprived parent get their baby sleeping better so that they can too! I offer packages to suit everybody’s needs and budget.