What impact does light have on my child's sleep?

A newborn that seems to sleep through anything often starts to have a bit harder of a time sleeping as he gets older and becomes more aware of his environment (around 6 weeks to 4 months of age depending on the baby). Also, melatonin (which makes us sleepy and is released when it is dark) starts to be released around 3-4 months of age so darkness really starts to
play a role in sleeping at this time. The increase of melatonin in response to darkness occurs mainly at night rather than during the day with naps.

Light/Dark And Naps
Some people like to keep their child's room light during naps to help signal that it is day time and not night time. I found that on a routine my son didn't have any problem figuring out night from day. I think a baby not on a routine would be able to figure this out without a light room too but it may take a little bit longer than a baby on a routine. Another common reason some people like to keep the room light during the day is because it is a lot less hassle to do this than trying to darken the room. It also makes it easier to have your child sleep away from home since finding a dark sleeping area some where else can get tricky.

Gina Ford believes that a light room is actually the cause of most cat naps (see Short Naps) because a child is able to see everything around them when they come into light sleep and instead of going into deeper sleep, they get up and want to play. My son was and still is definitely like this. He sleeps much better in a darker room and has done so since he was very young. The problem with this is that I have gotten him so used to sleeping in a dark room that if he is sleeping somewhere outside his crib where he can see anything, he won't sleep at all. He just wants to get up and play and talk to all the fun things he can see. This makes me think that it might be a good idea to get your baby used to sleeping in a light environment on occasion but a dark environment most of the time. Just like most new things, teaching a child to sleep in a light room will take time and most likely result in a lot of bad naps for a while.

Light/Dark And Night Sleep
As for night sleep, a dark room can really help your child sleep better early in the morning. Light coming through the windows or even a small amount coming from under the door can be enough to wake up many children (see Early Morning Wakings ). Even one of my nephews who had slept in a light room his entire life "suddenly" started to sleep in an hour later each day when he was moved from a east facing to a west facing room. It really can make that big of a difference.

How To Darken A Room
To darken a room you can cover up the window with a blanket or sheet but that only helps so much and won't be very effective if you've got a child sensitive to morning light. To more effectively keep out light you can get blackout shades/blinds or curtains. For those on a tight budget, cardboard or tin foil can be used and blocks out light amazingly well.

Related Posts:
Where should my baby sleep?
Getting the Right Temperature
Should my baby sleep with white noise?
Sleep Attire
Varying The Sleep Location
What does sound have to do with sleep?

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