Despite the snow in my yard, spring is supposedly around the corner and you want to know something funny that my boys started doing a week ago (not like "haha" funny). Waking at 6 AM. Yes, this CAN be a normal time for children to wake up (unfortunately!) but it was not typical for my children! I personally cannot seem to put two words together at 6 AM (not to mention I am guaranteed to look like a crazed zombie for the rest of the day!)
I didn’t overthink it too much until one of my friends mentioned that her children had been doing the same .. then it dawned on me. We are exiting Winter, the sun is rising earlier, and I had not fixed the blackout blinds on my boy’s room. When I tell you it was an instant fix to my boys early wakings - I mean it.
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Does light really have that much of an impact?
Light is the strongest indicator that it is time for your child to wake up in the morning! We have this thing called a circadian rhythm. It’s really cool if we stop and think about it. Our bodies are tuned into the light/dark cycle of the sun. Our bodies know that it’s time to sleep when the sun goes down it pumps our bodies full of melatonin. Our bodies know it’s time to wake when the sun comes up and it pumps our body full of adrenaline and cortisol. Our bodies have been programed to do this thanks to hundreds of thousands of years of surviving on this planet!
Following our natural circadian rhythm is linked to all kinds of health benefits including improved sleep, mood, and physical health!
Not only does a dark room help with melatonin production, but it also eliminates distractions. If you have a 6 month old you might notice that you have entered an age where they are SO distracted that you can hardly get them to sit still to eat! This is really normal for babies; their worlds are just exploding and everything is so interesting! Being able to see their world can prevent them from falling asleep. Keeping things dark will also help to keep things boring and non-stimulating!
I don’t want my baby to become dependent on a dark room to sleep
I understand your concern here. You hear about these babies that can sleep ANYWHERE and that’s what YOU want for your baby. I hate to burst any bubbles here, but falling asleep anywhere has much more to do with temperament and age than anything that you can shape or form into your child’s behavior.
Newborns will be able to fall asleep much easier, whenever and wherever they are. Their sleep needs are HIGH – and due to being in the womb with you for 9 months they will sleep better if they have contact with you or motion during their sleep. Sleeping on the go suits them. They also don’t have an established circadian rhythm yet! They are more likely to sleep easily in the day because they have not figured out their nights and days yet.
A child with an easy going temperament tells a similar story. Temperament plays a huge role in sleep! It’s one of the reasons why some babies are “naturally good sleepers”.
Children (and adults) who sleep in a dark room will sleep better. This is basic sleep hygiene. We fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply if we are in a dark room. Your baby will not grow addicted to a dark room, they will still fall asleep elsewhere when they are tired, but they may not fall asleep as quickly or stay asleep for as long.
It’s okay to want to be able to do some naps on the go. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! However, sleep is a POWERFUL tool. Sleep aids our growth, physical health, mental health, development, immune system… I could go on for ages. When we are at home with our babies I would encourage you to optimize their environment for a restful sleep. Let them soak in those benefits.
When should I avoid a dark room for sleep
Now that I’ve convinced you that a dark room is absolutely necessary, let me tell you about the exceptions. Before a child’s circadian rhythm is established, which doesn’t occur until 6-8 weeks, we will want to avoid napping in a dark room. Helping our baby learn the difference between night and day is important! The only way to do this is to keep things DARK at night and LIGHT during the day.
For those first few months of your child’s life, let them nap in a light room. This will truly optimize their night sleep moving forward. Once your child is getting consolidated rest at night, then you can shift to napping in a dark room for day sleep! (If you want more help with newborn sleep, check out my Newborn Guide - you can get a free excerpt sent to you today!)
The other exception is when your child is older than 2 and a half and has expressed a fear of the dark. As your child’s imagination grows, so does their ability to have nightmares. We want to give them tools to navigate any night fears. Allowing a small nightlight in the room can be extremely beneficial for sleep once your child is older. Consider a red night light at first, as this is the least disruptive to melatonin production.
How dark should the room be?
As dark as you can get it! Pitch black is best! That being said, light is powerful, and it seems to sneak in even the tiniest cracks and crevices. Do your best to darken up your child’s room, but don’t drive yourself bonkers if you can’t seem to eliminate every last speck of light.
Here’s the test you will do to see if the room is dark enough:
1. Go into the room during the day and turn off the lights.
2. Wait for a full minute to let your eyes adjust.
3. Now put your hand in front of your face. Ideally you should not be able to see your hand at all, but at a minimum you should at least not be able to see all the details of your hand. You might be able to see a slight silhouette in front of your face but you shouldn’t be able to see every line and freckle.
How do I make my baby’s room pitch black?
Thankfully there are some GREAT tools to help with this.
1. Slumberpod. If you have followed me for more than 2 seconds then you know I LOVE this product. Slumberpod is a tent that can fit over a pack n play. It will keep your child’s sleep space DARK. This company has thought of everything to make the Slumberpod safe and convenient. It travels easy for trips (can fit in your suitcase), it has a pouch for your baby monitor, and it has vents for fans to keep the air circulating! They are my most bragged about product. You can shop Slumberpod by clicking HERE (United States Link) or HERE (Canada Link). Use the code teensyweensysleepers$20 for $20 dollars off your Slumberpod!
2. Mahalo Blackout Blinds: These are by FAR my favorite blackout blinds. Easy to install easy to remove, AND they don’t come with that plasticky smell that most other blackout blinds come with! We still use these in my boys room and they have held up great! Not to mention its run by a Mama owned small business out of Australia. I love connecting with my other Mama entrepreneurs! They have also been gracious to provide a discount code for you! If you use this link and the code: TEENSYWEENSYSLEEPERS you will receive a 5% discount on your order. (Currently available in Australia and New Zealand through this link. If you want to purchase from the United States you can find them HERE on Amazon!)
3. A draft Stopper: This is one of my most favorite tools to recommend to clients! If you are crafty you can probably make this. This will keep the light from coming in under the door. It looks like two pool noodles covered in fabric and it slides right underneath your child’s door! Click HERE to see the one we purchased off Amazon for my boys!
4. Electrical tape: Don’t forget about all of those electronics in the room! Almost every electronic device has a light that turns on to indicate that it’s working. A small piece of electrical tape will block that light right out!