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When it comes to getting a baby to sleep, darkness is your ally. There are plenty of myths surrounding darkness when it comes to the baby’s room or wherever they sleep, many myths actually hinder a good night’s sleep.
Human beings need darkness to have the best night’s sleep and to help the body and mind understand when it is day and when it’s night. Without a clear sleep routine this can make bedtimes hard work for everyone involved.
Many parents ask when can a baby sleep in the dark as if it’s something that growth has a say in or that they may not like until they’re a certain age. The myths have created the idea that darkness is bad for children, that it leads to poor sleep and nightmares.
We answer when can a baby sleep in the dark and just how important it really is.
When can a baby sleep in the dark?
Babies can and should sleep in the dark from the day they are born. It’s really important to get into this habit as soon as possible so that they begin to acclimatise to the day and night cycle (circadian rhythm) and help their bodies release the sleep hormone melatonin and continue to release it throughout the night to prevent frequent wakings.
Why your baby needs to sleep in the dark
To some it might feel like making a baby sleep in the dark cruel and perhaps scary to them. Perhaps you’re concerned that because of your own experiences in the dark that you don’t want them to go through the same.
The reality is, babies and adults both sleep better in darkness and many fears are born out of not embracing the dark from an early age. Here are a few reasons why.
The circadian rhythm is most widely known as the ‘body clock’. It is a naturally occurring internal process which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Essentially it makes sure you are awake in the day and asleep in the night. Without it, you’d feel confused, permanently tired and potentially an insomniac.
Newborn babies rely on their parents to set it for them, particularly the mother through skin-to-skin contact and of course light and darkness.
The circadian rhythm uses light and darkness to work, when the light is out it signals the body to be awake and when it’s dark it helps the body to sleep. This has always been the case for as long as Humans have roamed the Earth.
When babies are born they do not have their own fully functioning circadian rhythm as they’ve relied on their mother’s own rhythm in the womb. So, when they’re born the parents need to help them set their own body clock which helps them sleep properly.
To do this, all they need to do is ensure they are exposed to light in the day and darkness at night. Given enough time, this will help them ‘set’ their body clock and when they are exposed to darkness they will find it much easier to sleep.
It can take a couple of months for their own rhythm to really kick in, roughly 2 months, but it’s very important for parents to lay the groundwork as soon as possible.
Melatonin is a core part of the sleep-wake cycle. It is a hormone which makes people feel tired and subsequently fall asleep (and stay asleep). Melatonin is released from the pineal gland and is triggered by darkness (or absence of light). Babies can sleep without melatonin but it will be a much harder battle to do so and are much more likely to have broken sleep cycles without it. Melatonin is particularly important for children who have sleeping problems.
If babies can sleep in the dark they can produce more melatonin which can help them both fall asleep quickly and keep them asleep for longer.
The circadian rhythm and the release of melatonin is a subconscious thing, but making everything go dark can help your baby understand consciously that it is time for bed. It can be much harder to get a baby to understand this if they’re in a bright room with shiny lights everywhere.
Therefore, the use of darkness can help tremendously to set the tone and mood for your baby ahead of bedtime. A solid routine that never changes can prevent the dreaded struggle of going to sleep.
At the beginning of your nighttime routine, it doesn’t need to be pitch dark but it can help if their environment gradually becomes darker and calmer. Autumn and Winter months are much easier seasons for parents and children at night time.
Sleeping in the dark is comforting and normal for babies, adults and children. Do you want your child to grow up to be comfortable sleeping in the dark? If yes then the best time to start making sleeping in the dark normal is right now. Moreover, if you are co-sleeping then you’re likely going to want them to sleep in the dark because, of course, you will be sleeping in the dark. Make sure to get some bumpers in case they fall out.
Can babies nap in the dark?
Naps and a night time sleep are completely different in their nature and how they should be tackled. Naps can be done in the dark but it’s not completely necessary as the objective isn’t for them to sleep for 8 hours but rather for a couple of sleep cycles (1-2 hours).
However, napping in the dark can help make nap times happen quicker due to the release of melatonin and it can also keep them napping for longer. It can also help them acclimate and become more comfortable in the dark. But, the danger of this is it could confuse their circadian rhythm and make them over-nap. So be careful and ensure they don’t sleep for too long.
Should I stop using night light projectors to get them to sleep?
Although it’s true that darkness is best to get a baby to sleep and keep them asleep for longer there is still plenty of value to be had from baby night light projectors. For one, it can help children who have a fear of the dark and two if the right light is used it won’t inhibit the release of melatonin.
The secret is to use a light which has red as a base colour because red is a light which has been found to not inhibit the production of melatonin. Blues and greens are the worst lights to use as they stop its production and keep people awake.
The question of when can a baby sleep in the dark is as soon as they’re born. It’s healthy, normal and promotes a habit which they will be grateful for as they get older. Darkness is a friend of sleep and helps them achieve a regular and consistent body clock which is an instrumental tool for a growing child. Babies who have a healthy sleep can enjoy a much more productive day.
We recommend investing in blackout blinds or curtains and only use lights which use red as a base if you absolutely need to.