I frequently write about melatonin and its many impacts on our health and its importance for sleep. And maybe you are making some changes and sleeping better. But what about your children or grandchildren? Do they sleep with a light on or do you keep the door open and a hall light on? Are they scared of the dark?
My “fundamentals on Fridays” blog posts talk about those little things we should be doing all the time in our lives for general health and wellbeing. While they are little things, when added together, they can make a significant impact on our health. So don’t dismiss them. Try adding them to your daily routine today.
A quick recap on melatonin and sleep
(or read this previous melatonin & sleep blog post for more info on the circadian rhythm).
Nighttime exposure to artificial light disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, altering the 24-hour biological clock that controls our sleep-wake cycle. In addition to affecting our sleep, disruptions to circadian rhythms have been associated with a number of serious diseases, including cancer, diabetes, depression, heart disease and more.
As the sun sets and it gets dark, our body starts to produce melatonin which is involved in regulating our circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. Melatonin levels rise which helps us sleep. However, exposure to artificial light, computer screens, and televisions can block that melatonin production.
It is now known that it is the blue wavelengths of light that have this melatonin suppressing effect.
Before electricity, our ancestors used fire and candles/flames etc for lighting which has very low levels of blue light, and thus is not disrupting to melatonin and sleep. But now we have electric light bulbs and electronics exposing us to several hours of blue light after sunset.
We can use screens for our phones, computers, and TVs which reduce the blue light from these devices or we can use blue light blocking glasses, that I’ve discussed before. Both of these can improve sleep and health.
But what about our kids?
Night lights for children
The same effect of light on melatonin production and sleep occurs in children. Yet how common is it for us to leave a light on for our children when they go to bed? Or leave the door open so some light comes into the room? Or maybe you have a beautiful calming sweet nightlight that they love, but is it really helping them sleep? Probably not.
Obviously, complete darkness is the best option for melatonin and sleep, but that isn’t exactly practical for either the kid and parent if they wake up and need attention. Or for breastfeeding time. (As an aside, did you know that breast milk at nighttime has significantly higher levels of melatonin than daytime milk. Worth considering if you pump milk and feed babies milk from a different time of day…).
So what can we do so they aren’t scared of the dark, can see to get up if necessary, yet aren’t kept awake from the light?
Dim the light
The simplest approach is to reduce the light exposure by dimming lights that are left on near them when they go to bed. Yes, it is like a dose-response. The dimmer the light, the less melatonin suppressing. This has a little benefit, but is it enough? They are still being exposed to blue wavelengths.
Use light bulbs or night lights that don’t emit blue light.
How about putting non-bluelight bulbs/night-lights in their bedroom, in the hallway and the bathroom too. Anywhere your child might go in the night..maybe your room too. Or replace the bulb in their special night light if they have one.
Here are a few options:
SCS lighting sleep-ready light bulb $21.95 which is a non-blue light bulb
SCS lighting nite switch bulb $23.95 which enables you to switch from daytime bright white light to nighttime blue blocked light.
SomniLight red night light (2pack) $14.99 is a night light that plugs into a wall socket. These have an automatic sensor so only come on when it is dark.
Their price may seem high but they last a long time.
I didn’t find as much choice in the UK for specific night time/blue blocking bulbs. Here’s what I found:
Red night light (2 pack) £4.99
Another alternative is using regular colored light bulbs that are either red or orange. I remember my sister and I had colored bulbs when we were kids. But we did it coz we were cool, not for sleep!!! But sleeping well can be “cool” too!
Try some out and see which gives enough light so your child is comfortable and can see their way around the room as necessary, yet doesn’t disrupt their sleep.
What about bedtime stories?
As simple as buying a light bulb
There are lots of options for kids, adults, and think how great these are for the elderly too.
Just about everything in our body works better after a good night’s sleep. So make a simple light bulb change and sleep better. Red and amber/orange are your sleep color friends.