It’s 5am. You’re on vacation in an Airbnb that has white lace curtains in the window (you know the ones I mean; the kind that reminds you of the “doily” your Grandma used to keep on her dining room table). So, you’re awake. But, when you roll over and see the clock and realize it’s barely dawn, your brain tells you to go back to sleep. Your baby, though? Your baby has no idea it’s still time for sleeping. All your baby knows is there is light coming in the window and that must mean it’s time to party!
This is why dark is best for babies’ sleep. Based on how our circadian rhythms work, our brains understand that it’s time for sleeping when the environment is dark. This is why shift-workers and people who live in countries where it’s sometimes light outside 24-hours-per-day use sleep masks and high-quality blackout shades. Experts agree that darkness increases the production of melatonin, so we all sleep better when it’s dark.
Your baby is growing rapidly – her mind is functioning at a speed of about a million miles a minute, it seems! That means any rays of afternoon sun that are seeping into her room at naptime, any blinking distractions like that annoying little blue light on your video monitor flashing at her during a 2am wake-up, or the street-lamp that’s shining through her nursery’s beautiful (but not very functional) petal-pink curtains while she’s trying to fall asleep at bedtime, are all keeping her from sleeping better or more easily.
In your baby’s room at home, I recommend blackout blinds (cellular shades are a great option, or a pull-down roller-style opaque blind), covered by good quality blackout curtains, for maximum darkness in your baby’s room, for naptime and for nighttime.
For a portable option when your baby is napping at Grandma’s house or your family is traveling, the SlumberPod is a great option. Especially while traveling or sharing a room with others, this quick-assembly privacy pod can be a great tool to create an optimal sleep environment for your little one!
I also recommend avoiding distractions like blinking lights on your video monitor, bright lights on your wipes warmer and sound machine, and toy fishy aquariums attached to the side of the crib – these only distract from sleep!
There is certainly an argument that babies should sleep in the light so they “learn” to sleep well anywhere. My counter-argument to that is this: If we, as humans, “learned” to sleep well under bright lights, none of us would have curtains in our bedrooms as adults. We wouldn’t need them! But we do need them – because humans all (babies and adults alike!) sleep better in the dark.
By Erin Junker, Pediatric Sleep Consultant & Owner of The Happy Sleep Company
Erin Junker is a Professional Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultant, and owner of The Happy Sleep Company, working closely with tired parents to help them help their little ones get the healthy, restful sleep they need. Follow The Happy Sleep Company on Instagram and Facebook - let’s get your family the healthy, happy sleep you deserve!