I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!

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Entries in light (1)

Friday
Jun082012

Ask Malia: Do Nightlights Help Kids Sleep?

Dear Malia,

Your ebook has been amazingly helpful for our family. We’re all sleeping better. But I have a question. You recommend keeping kids bedrooms pitch-black during naps and bedtimes and we’ve followed your suggestions. But my 3-year-old son is having trouble in a super-dark room. He seems more anxious with no light in there, and since we recently moved him to a big-kid bed, we’re worried he might fall and hurt himself at night. Is some light OK?

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In general, nighttime light exposure is a no-go. At night, light exposure shrinks melatonin production, making it difficult for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. A darker bedroom nearly always equals better sleep. It makes sense, when you consider that a century ago, before the advent of electronic clocks, alarms, and the nightly news, a darkening sky was the primary sign of the day’s end.

Even pinhole-sized beams of light can disrupt sleep patterns. Sleep doctors say that the ideal bedroom is so dark that you can’t see a hand waving in front of your face. In my ebook Ready, Set, Sleep, I recommend darkening bedroom windows, removing nightlights and lighted electronics, even blocking light spilling in under bedroom doors.

But there is a bit of wiggle room on the black-bedroom thing. In some cases, kids may sleep better with a small amount of bedroom light.

Naps

At night, light hinders the body’s natural production of melatonin, so nighttime light should be avoided. But naps are another story—older toddlers and preschoolers may appreciate a naptime nightlight that allows them to play quietly before sleeping. Case in point: at naptime, my 2.5-year-old repeatedly requests “one more minute” of playtime in her crib before lights out. With a nightlight’s soft glow, she’s free to play for a few minutes before snoozing, which means she's happier to go down for a nap. She usually zonks out within minutes. (The nightlight is equipped with an on-off switch, like this one, and it’s switched off at night.)

Toddler beds

When kids graduate to a "big kid bed," they love to revel in their newfound freedom by climbing in and out of bed during naps and at night. A small amount of light can help protect these kids from stumbling in a pitch-black room.  

Nighttime fears

Please note: A nightlight will not cure separation anxiety or help babies sleep better. Infants and young toddlers aren’t scared of the dark. But genuine nighttime fears can appear during the preschool years. If your child balks at a blacked-out room, a dim light can help keep the boogeyman at bay.

In many cases, a nightlight isn’t needed—ambient light from clocks, windows, and doorframes provides enough glow to quell fears and illuminate hazardous corners. If you do choose a nightlight, pick the dimmest light possible and place it in a spot where it won’t shine directly on your child’s face.