With the sun going down around 9 p.m. these days, it’s hard to get our kids (ages 2 and 4) into bed at a reasonable time. They just don’t seem to buy that it’s bedtime when it’s still sunny out. Of course, since it’s also light at 5 a.m., they’re up early and they’re both ridiculously tired. Any advice on helping kids sleep when it stays light so late?
Ah, the long days of summer. Back in my pre-kids days, I’d look forward to the lazy, sun-drenched nights—perfect for relaxed drinks at a bistro with outdoor seating, yes? Now that I have two kids under 6, there aren’t many relaxed bistro evenings on my agenda and summer’s sunlit nights aren’t the treat they once were. Let’s just say winter’s 5 p.m. sunsets sure help out come bedtime.
Summer’s long days throw off bedtime because nightime light exposure interferes with the body’s production of melatonin, the neurotransmitter that helps us feel sleepy and regulates sleep-wake patterns. Anything that harms kids’ natural melatonin production will make bedtime a battle, simply because kids won't feel sleepy enough to nod off.
According to researchers, even tiny, pin-sized beams of light are enough to disrupt sleep—so you can bet that a bedroom flooded with nighttime light impacts your child’s snooze patterns. For some children (including mine) even the light from the baby monitor or the light leaking in under the doorframe from the hallway can impact sleep.
So how much light is too much? Every sleep doctor I’ve ever interviewed (and that’s too many to count!) has said the same thing: bedrooms should be completely, can’t-see-a-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark. If you’d like your kids to sleep better during the height of summer, get to work, and get that bedroom really black.
- Dark, thick fabrics like felt work best for blocking light. Adhesive felt pads (the kind used to cushion furniture) can cover the annoyingly bright lights on the baby monitor and wipes warmer.
- Interior-mounting blackout blinds gives them the closest fit to your window frame. If blinds are exterior-mounted, make sure they extend a few inches beyond the window to minimize light leaks.
- If you’re desperate for a quick fix, head to the local discount store (many are open late) and purchase a twin sized flat sheet in black. Fold it in half, and tack it around the window frame. This five dollar solution will give your child some relief and buy you some time to figure out a more permanent window-covering solution, if you’d like.
- Finally, don’t forget the light coming in from underneath the doorframe. A rolled up towel works well here.
A final note: after playing outside on bright summer days, kids may need extra time to wind down in a dim setting before they feel sleepy enough for bed. Remember to get kids inside into a darkened house about an hour before bedtime, because darkness will cue melatonin production and beckon the sandman. And with the kiddos in bed at a decent hour, maybe you can enjoy a summer drink on the patio, after all.