Fear of the dark is among the most common childhood phobias, and as parents, we often turn to a nightlight as a way to help frightened kids feel safe as they fall asleep. But nightlights may not be as innocuous as they seem, and in fact, using a nightlight can have significant negative consequences on the quality of your child's sleep. At 5 Little Monkeys, our mission is to help parents everywhere ensure healthy sleep for their children, and we're proud to offer one of the best kids sleep systems on the market to do just that. But we also strive to be a resource for every aspect of sleep health – and if your child uses a night light, it may be time to change that.
How Nightlights Affect Sleep
Night lights may help kids feel safe if they're afraid of the dark, but unfortunately, they can also cause some unintended consequences. To understand those consequences, we have to dive into the anatomy behind how the body gets tired and goes to sleep.
While sleep is a complex process involving a wide range of bodily systems, one of the most important chemical elements of sleep is a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is secreted by the body to induce a feeling of tiredness and prepare the body for sleep. Melatonin secretion occurs as a normal part of the body's circadian rhythm, and it normally starts about 1-3 hours before the onset of sleep. But the body doesn't secrete melatonin purely based on time: it uses light as an indicator as well. Known as Dim Light Melatonin Onset (DLMO), this means the body normally secretes melatonin as a response to lower light conditions that signal nightfall.
Exposure to any artificial light source can interfere with the natural rhythm of DLMO, but this is particularly true for higher-frequency light: green, blue, and purple light. High-frequency light is most plentiful during the daytime, so exposure to artificial blue light can confuse the body and delay the secretion of melatonin. Unfortunately, most night lights use white, blue, or green light: the exact type of light that can interfere with sleep hormones like melatonin.
This interference has real consequences on your child's sleep. Exposure to artificial high-frequency light can make it harder for kids to fall asleep, cause them to wake up more frequently during the night, and result in lower-quality sleep that can impair your child's health and development.
Is It OK to Use a Nightlight?
This doesn't mean that night lights are completely forbidden, but if your child does need a night light, it's best to use a red one. Red light is the lowest-frequency visible light, which means it doesn't interfere with melatonin production in the way that white or blue light does. Ultimately, it's always best for kids to sleep in complete darkness – but if your child does need extra light to help them feel safe while falling asleep, we recommend a dim, red night light to promote melatonin production and healthier sleep.
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Using a red night light or avoiding night lights altogether is one great step you can take to help your child achieve healthier, more restful sleep, but the quality of your child's bed is even more important. At 5 Little Monkeys, we're proud to have built a world-class kid's sleep system designed to support growing bodies for better sleep – and you can try it for 100 nights, completely risk-free. Ready to see the difference that healthy sleep can make for your child? Try our children's mattress today!