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6 reasons why dark is best for your baby’s sleep

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Michelle Griffith
Sleep consultant

Did you know that babies aren’t afraid of the dark? Yep, this likely won’t be a concern until your baby is around two or two and a half, which is when that imagination goes into overdrive. So for the first part of your baby’s life, there’s no need to worry about your little one being afraid of the dark, and it’s more important to think about how we can best recreate the womb when supporting their sleep.

In the womb, your baby will have been crammed up nice and snug. Many of us recreate this feeling for our newborns through swaddling. They also will have been surrounded by relative darkness in the womb, and so it’s important that we try and recreate that element too.

But beyond recreating the womb, why is it a good idea to have a pitch-black sleep environment for your baby?

1. Supports melatonin production

Melatonin is our natural sleep hormone. Melatonin is produced in the dark and light actually inhibits the production of melatonin, telling our bodies it’s time to wake up.

2. Establishes circadian rhythm

Since light tells our bodies when it’s time to wake up, and dark tells our bodies it’s time to sleep, allowing your baby to sleep in complete darkness will help in establishing that circadian rhythm or body clock.

Often newborn babies have day and night confusion, so it’s important to expose them to light when it’s time to be awake, and dark when it’s time to be asleep. Keep in mind, it’s okay to have pitch black for naps too, even though it’s daytime. Then when it’s time to be awake between naps, allow that light in.

3. Calms an overstimulated baby

When babies are crying and fussy, and you’ve changed them, burped them, fed them, cuddled them, but perhaps nothing seems to be working, there is a chance they could be overstimulated. This is often known as the witching hours, which come late afternoon, into early evening, and can last a very long time. Often, witching hours are due to a baby being overstimulated.

Remember how I mentioned that the womb is pitch black? Imagine going from that to this bright world where you’re expected to look at faces all day, and toys, lights, and movement. That’s very stimulating and takes a while for a baby to get accustomed to. When babies are overstimulated, they can be hard to settle. Entering a dark room can be helpful with this!

4. Helps with short naps

Since light tells our bodies that it’s time to wake up, if any light is making its way into your baby’s room during nap time, this can cause a short nap. Your baby may be trying to connect those sleep cycles to continue that nap but then if their eyes briefly flutter open so that they see some light sneaking in either from the sides of the windows or even under their door, that might be enough to tell their brain it’s time to wake up.

5. Helps babies fall asleep easier

If your baby is ever fighting their bedtime there could be multiple reasons for this, but one of the first things you should look at is the darkness level of their room. Having a dark environment will only help your baby fall asleep easier and make bedtime go a little smoother.

6. Prevents early morning wakings

Sleep drive is lowest between 4 and 6am and, depending on the time of year and where you live, this can also be when the sun starts to rise as well. These two factors combined can result in your baby waking super early in the morning thinking it’s time to wake up.

If you’re reading all this and wondering just how dark is dark enough, here’s a final tip: if you can easily navigate out of your child’s room without using your phone light, it is probably not dark enough.

If it seems that light is making its way in, I highly recommend portable blackout blinds such as Sleepout Curtains. These can be used easily for travel and on the go, as well as full time in your child’s bedroom. They come with suction cups or velcro to attach the curtain to the window or wall, and are easy to put up and take down as needed.