Even after this period, most infants and children will need to be changed and comforted regularly throughout the night. Turning on a bright overhead light during each feeding is not only drastically alerting, but can be potentially harmful to the sleep health of both the mother and infant. In contrast, a warm, dimmable nursery lamp or red nursery nightlight can offer just enough light to allow safe, comfortable evening activity for parents without disrupting sleep patterns. However, research finds that even some seemingly dim nursery lamps and nightlights can disrupt the sleep of both parent and child. Careful attention must be paid to not only the brightness but the colour of the nursery light as well.
With all the middle-of-the-night waking your little one — and you — will be doing the first year of their life, a night light may sound like a good idea. But do babies need a night light? Not necessarily. However, there are benefits (as well as drawbacks) to having your baby sleep with one.
“If you’d like to use a night light in your infant’s room, or your room if you’re sharing a bedroom, that’s perfectly OK,” says Dr. Amna Husain, F.A.A.P., a pediatrician at Pure Direct Pediatrics in Marlboro, New Jersey. “It will be easier to see what you’re doing in the middle of the night when it comes to feedings and diaper changes.”
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to babies and night lights, there are a few things to keep in mind before you invest in soft lighting for the nursery. Here, experts weigh in on everything parents should know before using a night light in their infant’s room.
My Baby Nursery has a wide range of the best baby lighting for your nursery right here.
Jaundice in babies
It is not uncommon for some newborns to have yellowish skin. It’s called neonatal jaundice, a phenomenon related to the accumulation of bilirubin in the blood due to their liver being too immature to remove it.
This pathology does not tend to be serious, but the paediatrician must examine and evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. In general, neonatal jaundice tends to disappear on its own. Still, parents are often recommended to carefully expose children to sunlight, given that it is very beneficial for quickly overcoming these problems.
A good method is to place the baby’s crib or cradle next to the window during the day. It doesn’t need to be a clear day, because they will also receive enough exposure on a cloudy or grey day. It is recommended to dress them in clothes that leave their arms or legs uncovered, always monitoring the room temperature, so they don’t get dehydrated.
The exposure time must be limited and controlled. Between 7 and 10 minutes per day is ideal, though it depends on the amount of sun that penetrates through the window. Changing the baby’s position during the exposure is recommended so that it is uniform. However, consult your paediatrician to find out if this method is suitable for your child in particular.
Tips for using a baby night light
If you’re on the fence about putting a night light in your baby’s room, here’s a good compromise: Camouflage it.
“When parents use light in their child’s room, I often recommend that they put it behind a piece of furniture so it’s more diffused, as opposed to being a glowing beacon that baby will likely stare at,” Szmulewitz says. “Babies, particularly newborns and even children up to 6 months old, are often distracted by lights and will stare at them [since their vision is so blurry in the beginning]. Parents tell me all the time that their baby is looking at them in their video monitor, but really, they’re likely staring at the lights on the monitor in their room.”
Stick to the basics
As with all baby gear, night lights have come a long way since their humble beginnings as just, well, lights. Night lights that play music, night lights that project stars — parents can now pretty much find a night light that does anything short of changing baby’s diaper.
But as cool as these products are, you should probably just stick to the basics when choosing a night light.
“I discourage parents from using night lights that play music — or playing music in the baby’s room at night period — since music during sleep can prevent your brain from getting into a good sleep pattern overnight,” Szmulewitz says. “If parents are playing music at bedtime, I always have them turn it off when their child is then going into the crib to sleep. If parents want to play something continuously throughout the night, I suggest white noise, which is a consistent sound that can also help block out household noises.”
Bright Light, Melatonin, and Sleep
Exposure to room lighting at night blocks production of the sleep hormone melatonin in 99% of adults and children. Melatonin is responsible for helping us fall asleep, stay asleep, and a host of related health and immune functions (see these articles for a more detailed look at melatonin and health and melatonin and cancer). A 2011 study found that “Compared with dim light, exposure to room light before bedtime suppressed melatonin, resulting in a later melatonin onset in 99.0% of individuals and shortening melatonin duration by about 90 min” (Gooley et al.). While nursery lighting is necessary, particularly in the first months of childhood, the vast majority of parents are using the wrong kind of light.
Avoid Harsh Lighting
A soft glow makes any room seem warm and inviting, but that’s not the only reason to keep things cozy. Soft lighting reduces the contrast between light and dark, preventing overstimulation and giving baby’s undeveloped eyes a much-needed rest.
When lighting the nursery, avoid halogens and exposed bulbs. These bright lights make babies uncomfortable and anxious, and they can even be hazardous should a curious toddler come poking around. Opt instead for fixtures offering shaded or diffused light. Bulbs labelled “soft white” or “daylight” will be easier on a baby’s eyes.
Another tip: Consider the baby’s point of view. Ceiling fixtures with bell-shaped shades may look lovely from across the room, but the effect is less enjoyable when you’re lying directly under them!
Early stimulation with light
Light is very important for children who perceive the changes in light with great sensitivity. As they grow, they come to understand and get used to those changes and include them as part of their routine.
For that reason, stimulating them with light helps to wake up their senses and connect them to the world that surrounds them. Between 3 and 6 months of age, it is recommended to start with something simple, like turning off and on the light, as if it were a game.
After the age of 6 months is children’s time to discover the world, and their curiosity explodes, and so they can be given toys with lights. You can also play with them with shadow puppets or with a lamp in a dark room.
Starting at ten months, they are able to use simple devices like buttons, and so they can be given more complex toys slightly.
Install a Dimmer
Used regularly as part of a bedtime routine, a dimmer switch can help your baby wind down and sleep. The serene atmosphere created by dimmed lighting acts as a trigger for your little dreamer, letting his or her body know it’s time to rest. A dimmer also allows you to slip in for the occasional sneak peek without disturbing the little one. It’s also perfect for late-night feedings and diaper changes, helping to maintain your baby’s drowsy state while you take care of business.
Create Light Layers
Soft lighting is all well and good, but when you’re buried to the elbows in a messy diaper, it helps if you can see what you’re doing. The trick? Create layers of light.
Instead of relying on a single overly bright ceiling lamp, use a number of lamps and fixtures to brighten the room as needed. Aim for a minimum of three points of light, such as a ceiling fixture, changing table light, and reading lamp. By keeping your choices task-centred, you’ll always have enough light right where you need it.
Consider a red light
While lights at night have been proven to suppress melatonin production, there is one type of light that affects circadian rhythms the least: red lights.
“For parents who want to use a night light in their baby’s room, I usually recommend a red light, which is a colour that doesn’t block melatonin production, due to its low colour temperature,” says Szmulewitz.
There are a number of red night lights available, but if you’re the D.I.Y. type, sleep.org claims using a red Christmas bulb in place of the one that’s in your baby’s regular night light will do the trick just as effectively.
We have a wide range of baby lighting for your nursery right here at My Baby Nursery.
Go with your gut
Statistically speaking, lights at night can be disruptive to sleep, but that doesn’t mean you need to unplug your little one’s night light if they’re snoozing fine with it. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to look at their child as an individual and see how they sleep best — in the complete dark or with a little light. After all, no one knows the baby’s sleep patterns better than the person getting up with them each night.
Consider a Ceiling Light/Fan Combo
For the ceiling light, a fixture that combines a light fixture and ceiling fan offers many benefits. The fan can assist in energy management, cooling your baby in the summer and pushing warm air down in the winter, and many babies find the motion of the fan soothing and relaxing. A fan with blades painted in different bright colours becomes a visual treat when the fan runs at slow speeds.
Avoid Floor Lamps
Tall floor lamps placed by a crib or changing table are an accident waiting to happen, especially develops into a crawler then toddler. Tall floors lamps can oh-so-easily be sent crashing to the ground by a baby or toddler. Keep your task lighting confined to solid table lamps with cords that can be kept safely out of the way.
Be Aware of Heat
Some types of light bulbs can get dangerously hot, so if you have any of these fixtures, make sure they are positioned in locations where a curious infant or toddler can’t reach out and touch them. Compact fluorescent (C.F.L.) or L.E.D. (light-emitting diode) bulbs are much cooler to the touch, and they also are much more energy-efficient than incandescent light bulbs.
Control Natural Light
Natural light is a beautiful thing—unless it’s giving your baby a premature wake-up call. Keeping your nursery dark and cool will not only help your baby sleep longer, but it will also prevent overheating—a contributing factor associated with S.I.D.S.
The range of window treatment options for a nursery is just as diverse as they are for any room in the house, ranging from simple roll-down window shades to the most light-proof heavy drapes. It is critical, though, that you take childproofing measures for all window treatments in a nursery or children’s bedroom.
What to know about using a baby night light
It can affect the baby’s circadian rhythm
An infant’s circadian rhythm, or body clock, needs to set properly to let a baby start sleeping less during the day and more at night. In order to have your little one start logging more zzz’s when they’re supposed to (as opposed to sleeping all day and partying all night), it’s a good idea to keep things dark when it’s time for bed.
“When you keep the room very dark or dim in the evenings and let the natural light in during the day, it will help develop your baby’s circadian rhythms,” says Husain.
According to Sleep.org, when an environment is lighted, the production of melatonin — the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle — is inhibited.
That said, if your child is using a night light and sleeping well — great! Sleep.org also acknowledges that for some babies, “the little bit of light [may make them] calmer or less anxious.”
Night lights make feedings less disruptive
According to Linda Szmulewitz, a certified gentle sleep coach and owner of Sleep Tight Consultants, night lights, while more for parents than babies, can mitigate even bigger disruptions during the night.
“When babies are still waking in the middle of the night, it can be helpful for parents to have a very dim night light on so that they can see where they’re going in the room when responding to their baby,” Szmulewitz says. “Night lights make it so that you don’t have to turn on all the lights in the baby’s room, making it too bright and causing a lot of disruption in baby’s sleep.”
Good for kids, great for parents
While night lights are very much marketed for kids, I personally believe it is the parents who get the most benefit out of installing a night light in the kids’ room.
Easily fall back to sleep
Turning on bright lights when you check on your baby actually causes your brain to become alert and active. Guess what? If your brain is active, then so are you. This means that you will have difficulty returning to sleep.
A dim night light in your baby’s nursery will provide enough illumination to check up on your baby without jarring you awake. This means that you will return to sleep much quicker when your head hits your pillow.
Being able to see at night
The glow of night light is just bright enough to help you avoid any toys that need to be navigated around in the darkness when checking up on your baby.
This was actually the defining reason for me getting my little one night light. Once when I was checking up on my son, I stepped on a piece of Lego on the way to his bed. Not only did the howl, I let out my son, but my neighbours as well.
Check out our range of nursery baby lighting here.
Cheaper to run than ceiling lights.
Some parents choose to leave the lights on the outside of their child’s room with the door slightly ajar. While this method can be effective at providing a light source through the night, it may be difficult to control the intensity of the light emitted, plus it uses much more electricity than your standard night light.
Since night lights use less electricity than ceiling lights, they save you money when the power bill rolls around.
On the other hand, long wavelengths, like red and amber, have been shown to have no negative effect on sleep and melatonin production. Red and amber light simply do not interact with the melanopsin receptors. In fact, one experiment found that even very bright amber light (800 lux) had almost no effect on melatonin production (Kayumov et al.). For this reason, red and amber light acts as virtual darkness, protecting both you and your baby’s melatonin production, sleep, and overall health.
For these reasons, most pediatricians recommend dim, warm light sources for nurseries to help protect mom and baby’s melatonin production and to avoid awakening or alerting the baby during nighttime feedings.