This is something I hear all the time - that sleeping your child in broad daylight is essential to avoid them from getting day and night confused.
Whilst this is certainly true for little newborns, light can actually start to hinder your baby’s sleep once they get beyond a few weeks of age.
If you find that your little one is struggling to nap during the day, waking up when the sun comes up in the morning or finding it hard to get to sleep in the early evening, then light can certainly be one of the reasons. Just the smallest amount of light coming through the curtains or even a bright night light can affect sleep and there is a biological reason why.
1 - The biological reason - melatonin
Within your baby’s first few months, they will start to produce their own sleep hormone, melatonin. This hormone is associated with the onset of sleep and so it plays a big part in controlling whether your baby is feeling sleepy or awake. Essentially:
High melatonin levels = a more sleepy baby
Low melatonin levels = a more awake baby
Now here’s where it gets interesting - in order to produce high levels of melatonin, your little one needs to be in a dark environment.
This is all down to the way that humans are biologically wired; we are ‘diurnal’ animals who stay awake during the day and sleep at night (as opposed to ‘nocturnal’ animals who do the opposite).
Our melatonin levels naturally increase when it gets dark, making it easier for us to sleep at night. In contrast, light actually blocks the production of melatonin, to keep us awake and alert during the day.
If your little one is napping in a light room, even if they are tired, their low melatonin levels may mean that it can become physically quite difficult for them to fall asleep and to sleep well for an extended period of time.
The same is true at night and early in the morning, so always try to make your child’s room as dark as possible!
2 - No distractions
A dark environment is much less distracting, meaning that it will be easier for your child to fall asleep. This is especially true as they become more and more aware of their surroundings with age.
3 - A great sleep association
Creating a cosy, dark environment can be a great sleep association; it will become something that your child will start to understand as being a cue for their sleep, both during the day and at bedtime.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is broad daylight and 10 is pitch black), aim for a darkness level of at least 8 out of 10, 10 out of 10 if possible! As a guideline, if you can read a book in your child’s room, then it probably isn’t dark enough.
If you are napping your child in a pram whilst you’re out and about, the same theory applies. To encourage your child to fall asleep (and stay asleep), try to make the pram as dark as possible by using a blackout pram shade.
Please always use a safe product made of breathable fabric, to make sure that your child’s pram remains well-ventilated and to prevent your child from overheating (which can be dangerous).
Stay tuned for the second part of this blog series, where I will cover one of the most common myths - ‘Never wake a sleeping baby’…