If your baby is struggling to settle at night, you might think that it's down to colic, sleep regression or sleep deprivation. However, the problem might actually be your baby's night light.
Sleep experts are beginning to understand that the type of light we encounter before and during our sleep can have a negative effect on our slumber and it is blue light exposure before bedtime that is the most damaging.
What is blue light and why is it a problem?
Blue light isn't always light that is blue, it's a type of light that is present in certain wavelengths. It tricks our bodies into thinking that it is daytime, and even a short burst of blue light exposure can have a drastic effect on sleep lasting up to an hour and a half.
A Harvard study showed that exposure to blue light suppresses the body's production of the sleep hormone melatonin, causing surges in energising hormones and impacting the body's biological clock. The end result is a more alert and awake baby after exposure to blue light.
Your baby's eyes don't filter blue light as well as yours do, so just a short amount of exposure to blue light can be enough to significantly affect your baby's bedtime routine. It is for this reason that many sleep consultants recommend limiting blue light exposure for two hours before bedtime.
Does blue light affect your baby's sleep quality?
Studies from around the world have shown that exposure to blue light is associated with later bedtimes and disruption of your baby's sleep. While more research is needed to fully understand the cause and effect of blue light, many studies in adults have proven that light exposure in the evening drastically impacts sleep.
This evidence, combined with the data showing that children have an increased sensitivity to light strongly suggests that blue light disrupts your child's sleep patterns.
Ways your baby might be exposed to blue light
Blue light, like other colours of visible light, is all around you. The sun is the most natural form of blue light, although almost most forms of artificial light emit blue light. Humans are now exposed to more blue light than ever because of the widespread use of electronic devices that rely on LED technology.
Bear in mind that you and your baby may be exposed to blue light even if you minimise screen time before bed. Tiny sources of artificial lighting, such as a streetlight, alarm clock with white or blue numbers or even your baby’s night light, can be enough to disrupt your child's sleep.
Some forms of fluorescent and LED lighting can also have wavelengths that fall into the blue light spectrum. Many parents are having issues because their city has changed street lights from the older yellow style to newer energy-efficient styles with blue light. This can mean that even when you eliminate all other forms of blue light, your child is getting exposed to it through gaps in their blinds or curtains.
How to reduce blue light exposure in your home
Exposure to blue wavelengths at night could ruin your child's chances of drifting off into a gentle slumber. The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can minimise your child's exposure, let's take a look below.
Ensure daytime light exposure
Getting exposed to bright natural light during the day helps to synchronise your infant's circadian rhythm and promotes sleepiness at bedtime. Make sure your child gets plenty of bright, natural, daytime light in the morning and late afternoon.
Avoid artificial light exposure in your baby's bedroom
It's a good idea to have your child's bedroom as dark as possible, and this includes switching off any night lights that use bright white bulbs. You should aim to close the door instead of letting bright light from the hallway shine into the bedroom, and refrain from keeping any televisions on throughout the night. Avoid the use of your mobile phone while tending to your baby or child during bedtime or during the night.
Use blackout blinds or curtains on windows
No matter how hard you try to avoid blue-based lights when your little one is sleeping, it still finds a way into your house either through car headlights or street lamps. We recommend investing in blackout curtains, blinds or window liners to help block blue-based light from sneaking into your room after hours.
Change your light bulbs
It might sound silly, but if you've noticed both you and your baby are struggling with sleep, take a look at your light bulbs and consider using warm, dimmable lights or orange hue lights instead of white bulbs to help stimulate sleep.
Limit screen time before bed
It's a good idea to limit bright light exposure before bed, and this includes screen time. Wherever possible avoid watching TV or scrolling through social media on your smartphone while you soothe your baby to sleep.
Sleep friendly lighting
There are a few types of light that don't effect your baby's sleep: amber and red light. Amber and red light have higher wavelengths than blue or white lights, which research shows doesn't inhibit melatonin production.
Red and amber lights don't improve sleep, but they don't interact with the chemical process that happens. In fact, one experiment found that bright amber and red lights have no negative effect on melatonin production and it is for this reason that many sleep specialists and paediatricians recommend dim red lights for your baby's nursery.
Many parents don't realise it, but the cute lights that act as a soothing device for your baby are likely doing more harm than good, especially if they are left on all night. While your baby may find comfort in having a night light, consider swapping out the bulb to a more soothing orange or red tone so you don't end up staying awake all night.