Why Your Child's Room Should Be Dark
Let's talk about one of the most important factors of your child's sleep environment: Total Darkness.
How light affects sleep
Our body's sleep-wake rhythm is driven by light. In the morning, we are exposed to light as soon as we wake up. Whether it's turning on the light or sunlight coming through the windows, the light enters through our eyes and signals to the brain to begin producing cortisol (the wake hormone), waking the body up. In the evening, as the sun is setting, we are naturally exposed to less light, signaling to our bodies to begin producing melatonin (the sleepy hormone), which helps us fall asleep and stay asleep.
Why is it so important to have your child's room completely dark?
ANY light that enters your child's room can affect their ability to fall asleep AND stay asleep. Even with the eyes closed, light is still registered by the brain, which tells your child that it is time to wake up rather than sleep. This is not always light peeking in through windows. Light from around the door or even from monitors, sounds, machines can disrupt sleep.During the day sleep does not come as easily, so we want to make sure the room is dark to help the brain differentiate between sleep times and wake times.
Why does sleep not come as easily during the day?
In the evenings, melatonin levels begin to rise and will peak between 6:00-8:00pm, this is why your child is much sleepier at night than throughout the day. During the day, cortisol (the wake hormone) is much higher, making it more difficult to fall asleep. We want to create a sleep environment with total darkness to enhance their ability to fall asleep at nap times AND sleep for longer periods.
You may be thinking, “If my child only knows how to sleep in a Dark room, they will never be able to sleep in room with light?”
This is a common argument against completely dark room and I understand the thought behind it. However, it is simply not true. We all have certain ways we like to fall asleep. Personally, I like cold room and an extra pillow for legs, but does that mean I cannot fall asleep without those things? Nope. It’s not preferred sleep environment, but I still sleep just as well. The same goes for your children. In a different environment, the room may not be quite as dark as their own, but your child will still be able to sleep. They may see a few more night wakings, but this can be expected in a different sleep environment because it’s outside of the norm and that’s okay!
What about night lights?
Night lights are a great tool for older children that have expressed a fear of the dark. If your child needs a night light, it is best to avoid using yellow, white or blue lights as these are much more likely to disrupt sleep. Instead, I recommend using red, orange or amber lights.
Not sure if your child's room is dark enough? Try this:
Turn off the lights, close the door, and sit on the floor in the center of your child's room. See any light? Even the smallest sliver of light can disrupt sleep. Cover the windows with black out shades or curtains (or both!), use under the door stoppers to block light from coming in under the door, and tape over lights from baby monitors, sound machines, and humidifiers. Once you can no longer see your hand in front of your face, that's when you'll know it's dark enough!