Darkness is essential to sleep. Light in the day is responsible for setting the 24 hour circadian rhythm responsible for sleep and awake periods.
Light exposure at night also stimulates alertness— posing a serious problem for healthy, abundant and refreshing sleep. Light exposure during the late evening leading up to bedtime can make it harder for the baby and toddler to fall asleep. Insufficient darkness throughout the night can lead to frequent and prolonged awakenings. Melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland is at it’s lowest at 5 am and any light that enters the bedroom will hit the brain low in melatonin leading to early morning waking. This will in turn lead to day nap problems and a poor appetite.
Melatonin influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain saying it is time for rest. This signal initiates the body’s physiological preparations for sleep—muscles begin to relax, feelings of drowsiness increase, body temperature drops. Melatonin levels naturally rise during the early evening as darkness falls. At night, particularly between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. melatonin is secreted. The problem is, even the slightest ray of artificial light can disrupt its release. It continues to climb throughout most of the night, before peaking at around 2-4 a.m. Levels of melatonin then fall during the early morning, Remaining low during much of the day. Continuous darkness at night leads to increased levels of circulating melatonin. Whereas continuous light including night lights leads to suppression of melatonin.
Evening light exposure inhibits the naturally timed rise of melatonin, which delays the onset of the body’s transition to sleep and sleep itself.
Electricity the modern sleep enemy
In the old days humans did not need to seek out darkness. The advent of electricity has created a modern problem. We need to recreate the darkness and dim lighting our ancestors enjoyed naturally pre bedtime. Blue light, is especially problematic, created by screens, tablets, smart phones and televisions interferes with and inhibits the natural production of melatonin.
Managing light exposure is essential for a healthy nights sleep for your baby and toddler. Any electrical night light left on during the night affects the appetite hormone ghrelin and can lead to insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes.
Heavy lined curtains & blinds
Your childs room should be pitch black for sleep. Using heavy lined curtains and block out blinds can make a big difference. Plantation shutters don’t provide a dark enough bedroom. Bedroom blackout blinds can make a huge difference and Nurture Parenting has a discount code for parents living in Australia.
Toddlers and Nightmares
Once your toddler starts reading and maybe waching TV their imagination starts. This can lead to nightmares and suddenly becoming scared of the dark. Rather than give in to them and leaving a bedroom light on try using a light on in the bathroom. If this starts causing early morning or frequent night waking then you need to know about Lou The Owl. This is a Dutch designed nightlight that turns on in response to your child crying out and turns off automatically within 5 minutes. A word of caution place this light out of reach for your toddler in case they start to play with it and over ride the automatic turn off mechanism.