A hotly debated subject among parents has always been whether your nursery should have a night light or not. Arguments fly on both sides. Those in favor argue that light on in the room is comforting for the baby and helps them to sleep better. Those against the practice say that the light is distracting and may create a dependence on the light in the following years. So what is the right answer? While your personal needs might vary, consider the following before you make your decision.
1. Babies are not afraid of the dark
Babies are perfectly alright with the dark. In act, babies like it! Babies have no reason to fear the dark. An older child is afraid of the dark because they are afraid of monsters or other scary things that might be hiding in the dark. Your baby’s brain is not developed enough yet to process such an abstract thought. They find the dark to be comforting. The womb was dark and full of white noise, and that was a comfortable and safe place. Recreating that experience with a pitch-black room, white noise, and swaddling (for a younger baby) is the best way to encourage your baby to sleep well.
2. A dark room is relaxing
Putting an overstimulated baby into a darkened room can calm them down. When your baby is overwhelmed, tired, or overstimulated, the best idea is to put them somewhere where there are little stimuli. A dark room with some white noise removes distractions and lets your baby rest. Even a quiet room with the lights on still has more stimulation than your already overwhelmed baby can handle. Sleep improves when light is removed entirely, and some babies cannot have night lights until they are toddlers to avoid interrupted sleep.
3. Our brains associate darkness with sleep
Humans are wired to associate darkness with sleep. Your baby is no different than you in this. Your quality of sleep improves dramatically when you sleep in total darkness. Darkness encourages melatonin production, which is what tells your brain to start falling asleep. Your baby’s muscles will relax, they will begin to feel drowsy, and body temperature drops, all signs of peaceful rest. Melatonin is only produced in darkness, though, so even a night light can block melatonin production.
4. Your baby’s day/night cycle
Establishing your baby’s day/night cycle is important, but only for the first few weeks. A newborn has no concept of day or night. You need to introduce them to light and dark to create that association in their mind. This only takes until your baby is around six weeks old, though. You don’t have to worry about darkening their room during the day for naps because it won’t affect that cycle. It might be useful to slowly introduce a little light to their nursery to help them wake up from naps gently.
5. Day sleep and night sleep
A good sleep during the day will encourage good sleep at night. Your baby operates on a cycle that is about 12 hours long. The sleep they get during the day half of the cycle will directly impact the night half. When you put your baby down for a nap during the day, you should be putting them into a room just as dark as to when they are sleeping at night. This helps to ensure good sleep during the day and to keep their sleep hygiene positive. A baby that doesn’t nap well during the day will not sleep well during the night, either. Limiting daytime naps may harm night sleep if they are cut back too far.
6. Baby napping too long
A baby can’t sleep “too much.” Your baby needs a certain amount of sleep to remain healthy and happy, but they aren’t going to oversleep. A darkened room might let them stay asleep longer than they would in a lightly-lit room, but this isn’t detrimental to them. A nap that runs a bit long is going to steal from sleep later in the day, though, so they might not sleep as long that night if the nap runs long. If your baby wakes up grumpy from their naps, introducing some light after an hour or so will help your baby’s body to self-regulate and wake up gently.
7. Using a night light
If you do use a night light, pick one that is dim and does not shine directly on your baby. A night light is more useful for you than your baby. You may need a little light to move around in the nursery while your baby is asleep, and in that case, you should choose a dim night light that provides just enough light for you to see your baby. The light source should not shine directly on your baby. Avoid using it for very long as the light may stimulate your baby’s brain into waking them up from their sleep. Using the light at all is not recommended, however, as pitch-black is better for their sleep.
Keeping your baby’s room pitch black is the best way to ensure that your baby has a restful sleep. Using a night light should be limited to only when you need to move around the room, and otherwise, the room should be kept dark enough that it is difficult to see your hand in front of your face. Using dark curtains, such as blackout curtains, can help to keep the room dark even in the middle of the day. Despite what you might fear, babies are not afraid of the dark. They will only benefit from having a pitch-black place to sleep away from the stimulation that might interrupt or distract from their rest.