Short answer: PITCH BLACK.
Why? Because melatonin is produced when our eyes physically see darkness and in result tells our bodies it’s time to rest. This is why your baby is going to sleep better in complete darkness for naps and for bedtime. On the contrary, when our eyes see light (sunlight/ white or blue light) when it is time to sleep our bodies put a halt on melatonin production which messes with our baby’s natural circadian rhythm. Isn’t that interesting?! I know this may all be news to you so today I am going to share when to start dimming lights in your home to promote sleep for your baby, how to create a pitch black sleep environment and what light colors are okay to use for sleep if needed. Let’s begin!
When to start dimming the lights.
Start dimming lights in your home 30-45 mins before your baby or toddlers bedtime. This helps the body to build that melatonin production. That includes turning of all screens 30-45 mins before bedtime as well ! All that screen is telling your baby is to stay awake! I know there is a misconception that television is calming, but it’s sending mixed messages to your child that bedtime is not approaching and that they should stay awake! If you want your baby to go down easily dim the lights and turn off all screens 30-45 mins before bedtime and start the bedtime routine! That screen time right before bed usually results in a big tantrum anyway.
Creating that pitch black sleep environment.
Be creative! Ultimately you don’t want any light coming through while your baby is sleeping to help promote the production of melatonin. My rule is that you should not be able to see your hand in front of your face. That’s how dark it should be. Honestly, Jude’s window is covered with black poster board and black duck tape. Is it the cutest thing in the world?…no. Does he sleep 10-12 hours at night?….yes. The black poster board and tape stay.
You can also use blackout curtains but I have found that most blackout curtains aren’t truly “blackout” because light will come through on the sides. Other options are pull down blackout curtains on blinds.com or a SlumberPod if your child is over the age of 4 months old.
I know some of you believe that this is extreme, but if your baby is struggling with sleep this is one of the EASIEST adjustments you can make in helping your baby rest better! I can’t tell you how many times it has worked with clients of mine where we simply blackout the room and their baby already begins sleeping better and longer before we even get started. It’s a game changer. Blacking out the room not only helps your baby’s onset of sleep and quality of sleep but also helps prevent those early morning wakings! If light is peaking through your baby’s room by 5:30/6:00 AM their eyes (yes behind their eyelids) will perceive the light and their brain will tell them it’s time to wake up! If this is something you have been experiencing with your child blackout the room and see how it helps! You will be amazed.
Light colors that are okay to use.
I understand that night feedings are needed, diaper changes are going to happen or maybe your toddler is scared of the dark and wants a little light in the room. In these cases here are my two colors that I recommend using: red or orange. These two colors do not suppress melatonin production. If you have a Hatch Rest you can easily customize your light to one of these two colors for the evening time. If it’s just to use for night feedings or diaper changes I recommend that you turn the light on for those times but then turn it off afterwards when you lay your baby back down for sleep.
As I close out I want to go back to what I said from the beginning “your baby will sleep better in a pitch black sleep environment. That’s because not every baby has to sleep in complete darkness to sleep well. These adjustments in light to a baby’s nursery is for the baby that is taking short naps, waking earlier than 6:30 A.M. in the morning or refusing sleep altogether. If your baby takes great naps and sleeps a full 10-12 hours at night then you don’t necessarily have to make these adjustments. Will they maybe sleep even better if you did eliminate the light, most likely. Everyone sleeps better in the dark. If your baby is STRUGGLING to sleep eliminate the light!