Enough of my clients of young babies – under 12 months – tell me they have a nightlight in their nursery because they “worry their baby is scared of the dark” that I feel the need to discuss nightlights, parents’ projections, and the reality of fear of the dark.
I’ll get to the point: Babies under the age of 2-3 do not experience what we refer to as being “scared of the dark”. They just don’t have the cognitive development that enables them to understand and express that concept. Even two year olds who say they are afraid of the dark, like my own, may not be! But, they ARE smart enough to use that buzz word as a ploy to get you back into their room…you get the idea. Parent’s sometimes use this projected fear of the dark as a reason their baby isn’t sleeping well because “they’re too scared to sleep when it’s too dark”; and hence the nursery ends up brighter than day in the middle of the night.
One piece of advice, don’t be tempted to put a nightlight in the nursery for this misguided reason. That very light can be “the thing” that keeps your baby up if he finds it and fixates on the light. Remember darkness is what elicits melatonin release which in turn helps babies fall and stay asleep. And light, from any source, inhibits it. If you find yourself fumbling in the middle of the night to change a diaper or get a feeding in, then I encourage a small flashlight or hallway light to guide you through, but not a permanent light.
In older children, aged 2-5 who are capable of imagining scary monsters under their bed or lurking in the closet, AND they ask for a “light on” (this is the key- don’t offer one if they don’t express a ‘need’ for one!), then offering a nightlight can help assuage their fears – it can be comforting, but not light enough that it will be detrimental to their sleep (as an overhead light can be)
If you are in the market for a nightlight, here are some tips and what to buy:
1. In general, look for “red light” emitting nightlights. Blue light from regular and LED bulbs is a strong inhibitor of melatonin, while red light has the least inhibitory effects.
2. Here is an example of a red light nightlight that won’t inhibit melatonin, but will provide a nice glow.
1.Salt lamps can work well too…buy one that is dimmable and if it seems too bright, hide it behind something and it will still glow.
Dr. Rebecca Kempton, M.D. is a certified infant and toddler sleep consultant, physician, and mother of 3 under the age of 8, based in Chicago. Using a variety of behavioral techniques, she customizes sleep solutions based on individual family goals and children’s temperaments and coaches families all over the world to a better night’s sleep. She is a staff blogger for the Huffington post on topics related to infant and toddler sleep. Dr. Kempton works with clients both nationally and globally by phone, Skype, and email and with home visits. Follow me on facebook and twitter for free sleep tips and please contact me for a free initial consult.
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