Millions of parents around the world are making one very simple, but huge, mistake that is potentially inhibiting their child's sleep and contributing to difficult bedtimes and frequent night waking.
Most young children are put to bed using a nightlight 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 overnight. This mistake is perpetuated by thousands of nursery product manufacturers around the world. A quick search on the internet using the term 'child nightlight' returns over five thousand results, yet almost all of them have the ability to disturb a child's sleep.
The reason that nightlights, light shows and glows from baby monitors can have such a devastating effect upon sleep is due to the effects of the wavelength of different colours of light on the human body. White and blue based lights, however dim, will inhibit the secretion of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin at night. Melatonin is released by the brain in response to light sensitivity in the eyes. During the day the presence of sunlight triggers the brain to secrete cortisol, which causes feelings of alertness. In the absence of 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 children to not only go to sleep initially, but stay asleep for longer overnight.
Most children's nightlights utilise white, blue or green hues. These colours are commonly considered to be soothing and so manufacturers select them for their products. White and blue based light, which covers almost all forms of lighting used in the home, inhibit the body's secretion of melatonin by tricking the brain into believing it is still daylight. It isn't just lighting in the child's bedroom that makes a difference though. The light emitted from screens, including televisions, laptops, tablets and smart phones can also cause problems, no matter how appropriate and child friendly the game or programme.
There is one type of light however that doesn't inhibit sleep. Red. Red based light has a much higher wavelength than white/blue/green 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 recently in the scientific community, yet this research as yet does not seem to have filtered through to nursery manufacturers and retailers who continue to make products that fly in the face of sleep science.
Biologically speaking, the best lighting to use in the nursery is nothing. For the best sleep possible a child will sleep in complete darkness. A dim red light is by far the best second option. Parents shouldn't just focus on the light in their child's bedroom however, all light the child is exposed to before bed, such as in the bathroom when having a bath or brushing teeth, matters too. Most bathrooms are lit by harsh and bright white light. This light exposure, right before bed, can cause difficulties for the child long after they have left the bathroom. Using a battery operated red hue waterproof lamp, or battery operated candles can make a huge difference to the child's sleep. You can see some sleep friendly examples here.
Top Tips for Sleep Friendly Lighting
- No screen exposure for two hours before bedtime.
- 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 6pm.
- 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.
- Use a red lightbulb in a lamp in the 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.
For more sleep tips, that don't involve leaving your baby or toddler to cry, check out myGentle Sleep Book.