Elizabeth Saenger, PhD
A 2020 study found children’s sleep quality went hand-in-hand with lower levels of stress and better general health. These benefits meant that, “children who sleep well have happier lives than those with more disturbed sleep.”
How can you help your child sleep better, and have a happier life? To find out, it is useful to know how light affects your child.
What is blue light?
Blue light is part of the spectrum of white light—a part of the spectrum that has special effects on our nervous system.
First, when blue light hits cells in the retina–cells related not to vision, but to regulating our circadian rhythms, or inner clock–it tells our bodies that it is daytime. This message energizes us, which is fine when we want to listen to a concert, or play tennis, but not convenient if we are trying to relax.
Second, exposure to blue light in the evening, or during the night, reduces our production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This means we don’t get the message that it is time to go to sleep. That’s why white light, and the blue light within it, are likely to keep you up if you are exposed to it near bedtime, or for two to three hours before bedtime.
How can you safeguard your children from blue light at the wrong time?
To block out blue light at night, CET recommends that people sleep in a darkness as complete as our ancestors did before we had electric lights, candles, or fire. CET also recommends using curtains, especially blockout curtains, because they keep out virtually all light. Shades and blinds, on the other hand, generally let some light in.
This near-absolute darkness is great for sleeping. However, it could make you stub your toe in the middle of the night, or trip over a chair.
For that reason, CET offers two low-tech solutions. These solutions keep a bedroom in biological darkness. That is, they do not produce blue light, the kind of light that tells your eyes, and your master clock, that it is day. Instead, they produce amber light.
Amber light lets you see that chair instead of tripping over it, but it does not fool your nervous system into thinking it is time to be awake.
How can you use amber light to help your child – and you – sleep better?
CET recommends two low-tech solutions to help children – and adults – sleep better during the night.
First, if your children tend to get up during the night, use amber-colored nightlights rather than white ones. Amber lights will not wake up their nervous systems when they get up for a few minutes at night, and then want to go back to sleep. CET recommends the nightlight here.
Second, get a small flashlight with amber-colored light. You can use this if you want to check in on your children at night. Older children can also use the flashlight so they can see where they are going at night.
And remember: Amber night lights and flashlights are not just for children. As a customer who bought the amber flashlight said, “It great to use at night if I get up. It is amber light so it doesn’t wake me up too much and I get back to sleep easily. No blue/white light which would keep me awake after using at night.”