One of the easiest and most overlooked things you can do to help improve your child’s sleep is make their room DARK! If your little one is waking early, struggling with short naps or battling you at bedtime, making sure it’s pitch-black dark is one of the first puzzle pieces you’ll want to look at.
Why is darkness important?
Our bodies are biologically wired to be awake with the sun. Light – whether it’s natural or artificial – is stimulating to the brain and essentially signals to the body that it should be awake. If there’s light pouring in from the sides of the curtains or you’re using a nightlight, this could be working against the body vs. with it. Even closed eyelids have cells that can register light and pull us out of a sleep cycle early.
Additionally, light can suppress the rise of melatonin – the sleepy hormone. When melatonin cannot rise to sufficient quantities, it can disrupt both falling asleep and staying asleep. We need a healthy amount of melatonin built up in our system in order to fall asleep easily and stay asleep for long periods during the night. In addition to making sleep spaces pitch back, you can help melatonin production by dimming the lights in your house and avoiding screens a few hours before bedtime (as the blue light from screens is especially disruptive to the production and rise of melatonin). If you’re struggling with your own sleep, this tip might be helpful for you too!
By the way, outside of medical issues that require the use of synthetic melatonin as prescribed by your doctor, I do not recommend its use in solving sleep struggles. Here’s where you can read more on that.
So, how dark should it be?
Like, super dark. Close the blinds, turn off the lights, and let your eyes acclimate to the environment. If you can see your hand in front of your face – it’s not dark enough!
But won’t my baby become dependent on darkness to sleep?
Will your baby biologically sleep better in the dark? Likely yes. Do you need to worry that they won’t sleep anywhere else? Not really.
First of all, making it dark is working WITH your baby’s body vs. against it. Second, let’s use the analogy of sleeping with a pillow: You probably prefer to sleep with a pillow, but if you had to, you could fall asleep without one. It might not be the best sleep of your life, but you’d still sleep. It’s similar to how we all tend to sleep better in our own beds than we do in hotel beds (or at least I do), but we still are able to sleep when we’re traveling or on vacation.
Darkness is similar. When your baby is at daycare or spending the night at grandma’s house, that environment might not be (and at daycare, it will not be) as dark as you keep your room at home. My philosophy is when we can make the environment as conducive to optimal sleep as possible, why wouldn’t we? I promise that the ability to sleep well (or not) in light is not something that you can condition your child to do – it’s literally just biologically superior to sleep in a pitch black room!
Is any light okay?
While biologically light can always be disruptive to our sleep quality, if your older toddler, preschooler, or school-aged child would feel more comfortable with a nightlight, choose one strategically.
The best type of nightlight to choose is one with a red/amber glow. On the light/color spectrum, there are some colors of light that will disturb your sleep more than others. For example, blue light (like the light from screens) is more disruptive than warmer colors on the spectrum like red or orange. (This is because it interferes with the production of melatonin – the sleepy hormone – and when that cannot rise in sufficient quantities, it can cause sleep struggles.)
If you’re using a nightlight that plugs into the wall, you can situate it behind a piece of furniture so that it is more ambient lighting vs. direct lighting, but I actually prefer to use either a dimmable nightlight with the ability to change colors (like The Hatch) or dimmable salt lamp (which gives off a red/orange glow). You’ll want to dim the lamp all the way to the lowest setting which should be just enough light to keep your child confident and comfortable in a room that’s not totally dark but not too bright that it disrupts their sleep.
What blackout solutions are recommended?
Your target blackout curtains are probably helping, but likely aren’t getting the job done effectively. Here are my favorites:
Blackout EZ Window Covers
These actually aren’t curtains or blinds, they’re window covers/liners but they are legit & provide 100% blackout. They come in a few colors and can be easily cut to size to fit any type of window. They affix to the windows via Velcro strips, and you can keep them up permanently or take them down during the day to let the light in.
Redi Shade Paper Blackout Blinds
If you have curtains you want to use in your child’s room that aren’t true blackout, this is a cheap and effective addition. They’re cordless and you can use clips to raise & lower the shade to let light in during the daytime. They are paper so they may rip, but they come with several in a pack so you’ll have backups.
Black Trash Bags
Okay, so this is not the cutest solution, but it works in a pinch! If you’re waiting on a more permanent option or are in a temporary space, grab a bag of heavy-duty black trash bags & some painters tape, and have a DIY window covers party!
And finally, I can’t discuss blackout solutions without mentioning the SlumberPod! This is a great option for families who want to keep their child’s sleep space as dark as possible when they travel. Remember when we talked about how it can be harder to sleep on vacation because we’re away from our usual environment? The SlumberPod helps recreate that cave-like room your baby has at home. Use code OHBABYCONSULTING for a discount on your SlumberPod purchase and enjoy a well-rested vacation!
[I independently source and vet any products that I choose to share on my site. If you buy from the links I’ve provided, I may receive a small commission, which in turn supports my work.]
I know there are a million different solutions to darkening your child’s room and these favorites are just a tip of the iceberg. But if you’ve darkened your child’s sleep space and sleep is still a struggle, it might be time to dig in a little deeper and figure out what else we can do to improve the quantity and quality of sleep for everyone. Reach out & we can explore together!