Let me warn you before reading on that I’m not a sleep expert and while you might want to experiment a little bit with some of the things that worked for me don’t take it as gospel. If there’s anything I’ve learned is that every baby is different so something that works here, might not work there!
I studied Zoology in University. Now you know my bias. I speak from an evolutionary perspective because I feel that it helps me predict things. My take on baby sleep says that 100,000 years ago, we didn’t have a nighttime source of light. The moon and stars excepted and this was only if we didn’t have any form of roof covering blocking this from view.
Thus, I nixed any chance for a night-light in my son’s room. I never felt that a baby should be “afraid of the dark.” In fact, I’ve read research showing that lights in the night, even for adults, can severely disrupt sleep patterns and cycles. So while sleeping might seem long and productive, the body doesn’t get enough deep sleep and so suffers in the long term from tiredness. This can cause poor moods and outbursts, eating disruptions, difficulty in concentration and even poor learning. I have heard there are some lights that do not interrupt sleep. This being the case, why offer a light when you’ll have to bring it with you everywhere you go. Granted sometimes it’s difficult to darken all rooms, we usually manage with a black garbage bag and some tape when on vacation or visiting family. In case you are wondering my son happily babbles in the dark as he’s put to bed and in the early morning as the sun lightly illuminates his room. By the way, I think overdarkening a room to the point where even daylight doesn’t make shapes known can be cruel and unusual. I do think the light is a more gentle way to wake a baby, so there’s definitely a balance at play. While a room should be dark enough during nighttime hours, it should be light enough during the day to see shapes and waken your baby at a reasonable time.
Thus, by stance is no night light and a darkened room. If you suffer from poor sleep, I recommend you try this for yourself. As an aside my neighbours side light triggered by motion set off several times each night. Without realizing it, it was waking me up periodically. I didn’t notice this correlation at first, but after reading an article on light and sleep, I figured it out. It turns out the light would trigger often in the night from the movement of the trees, and other night animals moving about. Once we darkened our room, I began feeling more rested and woke far less frequently.
I feel that night-lights have a similar affect on your baby. Some might wake up for just a second and talk themselves back to sleep, while other might be compelled to wake up totally or even cry at the shapes in their room. Some parents might misconstrue their baby’s poor sleep habits to a “fear of the dark” and might inadvertently add a night light only to handicap their early sleep efforts. Remember, thousands (hundreds) of years ago we wouldn’t have had any light at night aside from a candle left on inadvertently so I don’t think having a night light is something a baby or toddler needs. While you might not notice the connection, and while your baby might grow accustomed to the disruption, it doesn’t mean your baby might do better without it. If you are considering removing a night-light, be warned that this change will take some effect for your baby to get used to. Even positive changes take time to adjust to after-all.
The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be able to see the outline of your outstretched hand in front of your face. Give it a try and let me know how things go!