When I work one-on-one with clients, one of the first and most important things I make sure is a point of focus is the level of darkness in their child’s bedroom or nursery.
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being cave-like, blackout dark, how dark is your child’s room?
If you answered 0-9, you’ll want to keep reading…
Why Darkness Matters…it’s Science!
Sleep is driven by two processes in the human body - circadian rhythm and homeostatic mechanisms.
When we think of circadian rhythm in the realm of infant and child sleep, we usually think of early morning wakings, daytime light exposure, dimming the lights in the house as we get closer to bedtime, planning the morning nap around when your child has a natural dip in their rhythm…and you can see here, all these examples are related to the body’s natural response to light and darkness.
Circadian rhythms are driven by exposure to light and darkness. When light enters the retina, stimulating hormones are released, causing us to wake up or become more alert. In opposition, the onset of darkness (dimming the lights during the evening hours leading up to bedtime) triggers the release of melatonin which helps with the onset of sleep.
Homeostatic mechanisms are a bit more unheard of when it comes to infant and child sleep, but what about the terms “sleep pressure” or “awake windows”? I bet you’ve heard of that if you’ve followed me or any other sleep consultant. These ideas are based on the homeostatic functioning of the human body and help prevent overtiredness leading up to your child’s bedtime.
Disruptions to homeostatic functioning (overtiredness) can have detrimental effects on the performance of cognitive tasks…for your child, it means learning about the world around them!
So, how sleepy your baby is, and the structure of their sleep, depends on how long they’ve been awake and the biological time of day.
When we set up sleep schedules for our clients, we take both of these processes into account.
What about blue light?
As with almost everything in life, I encourage you to take a moderate approach.
Blue light can be really good, and even stimulate the human brain when it needs to be stimulated! Personally, I prefer a hot cup of coffee to get over that mid-day slump, but I digress!
Blue light can also be pretty detrimental to our sleep.
It’s all about timing.
I recommend avoiding exposure to blue light within 90 minutes of an expected sleep period. This time of separation may vary from person to person, so if you find that you or your child is struggling to fall asleep when it’s time, reining in the blue light exposure is a great place to start.
And yes, that means if you have a teeny tiny newborn baby who’s only awake about an hour at a time per their awake window, no blue light exposure is recommended. A baby’s job during the first few weeks of life is to sleep! And, as they get older, to play…and sleep. ;)
Testing the Level of Darkness + Blackout Solutions
It’s time to assess your child’s room.
First, go in and close the door.
Wait a few minutes and let your eyes adjust.
What do you see?
Can you make out the shapes of the furniture?
Is there light streaming in from behind the curtain?
Are there small lights from the monitor or humidifier shining?
Can you see light streaming in from the hallway from under the door frame?
We recommend covering any and every light source you see.
For small appliance lights, put a small piece of black electrical tape over the light.
For the doorways, grab a door draft stopper to help prevent any light from coming in under the crack of the door.
Finally, make sure the windows are fully covered. We love the Sleepout curtains - they’re a full blackout solution that’s non-toxic, and environmentally friendly, and they work great! I have one and I love it - it’s easy to put up and take down, so we use it when we’re traveling too. Use the code LAKECOUNTRYSLEEP for 10% off your order. I only recommend (and am an affiliate with) products I personally use and love for my own children.
A cheaper option is to grab some tin foil and painters’ tape. Cut to size and put it up with the tape. This is not a permanent solution, but it works while you’re waiting for your Sleepout curtain to arrive!
You can also look into Blackout EZ Window Covers - I’ve used these before too and they work great - but they’re a bit messier option (goo-gone anyone?), can be ordered and cut to fit your window perfectly, and made of a vinyl that has that certain manufactured smell to it - I wasn’t in love with having that in my baby’s room.
Okay, finally, I want to mention the SlumberPod (I’ll be doing a review of this product in the near future, so stay tuned!). It’s a safe blackout solution for baby’s 4-months and older. With their new HomeBase option, it can even fit over your child’s full-size crib. We have two and use at least one of them weekly. Use the code LCSLEEP for $20 off.
What if my child is scared of the dark?
Most kids are not afraid of the dark…until someone puts the idea in their head that, actually, you can be afraid of the dark. Be mindful of this when you speak to and with your child to make sure you aren’t inadvertently creating this fear in them.
Avoid feeding into their fear - no “monster spray” talk as that solidifies the idea that monsters are real. Which they’re not!
However, if your child has expressed a fear of the dark, it’s best to use a red bulb in a nightlight, as red light doesn’t interrupt sleep as much as, say, blue or green light. If you have a Hatch sound machine and nightlight, you can put it on the dimmest red setting and you’ll be good to go.
Okay, I know after reading this, that you may have some work to do! When you’re done setting up your child’s sleep environment and making it 10/10 dark, snap a photo, put it in your Instagram stories, tag us, and I’ll share it on our account and cheer you on. Way to go! You’re on your way to better sleep!